This morning we started heading back to Rome to stay for the night before we made our way to the south of Italy. On the way we stopped in Assisi, the home of the Basilica of St. Francis, who was the founder of the Franciscan Monks. We didn’t have a lot of time in Assisi – only about an hour or so. Most of that time was spent in and around the Basilica itself so we didn’t get to see very much of the rest of the town. This didn’t bother us at all though, as the Basilica was just beautiful. The outside is a wonderful piece of architecture but is quite similar to many of the other churches we had seen along the way. The most beautiful part of this church was the interior – which we weren’t allowed to photograph. I could have snuck a couple of photos I suppose, but it didn’t seem right to do something naughty inside a church! So I just contented myself with a postcard that had a photograph of the interior on it.
The church is really made up of two halves – the Upper Basilica and the Lower Basilica. The Lower Basilica is entered through a set of wooden doors which has a huge rose window above it. It was originally designed as a crypt with vaulted ceilings, so upon entry the space is quite large and spacious. There are various little chapels that come off the side of the main space and there also some pieces of artwork dotted around. But the Upper Basilica is the showstopper. The vaulted ceilings are the most brilliant bright blue and are kissed with embellishments of gold stars and intricate paintings. The walls are covered in frescoes, the most important of which are on the lower parts of the wall and depict the life of St Francis himself. These were painted by Giotto in the late 1200’s and show St Francis in scenes from stories which were recorded as part of his biography by St. Bonaventure. You can see photos of the frescoes here.
After wandering around the Upper Basilica for a while and marvelling at the beautiful colours and architecture, we ventured into the Crypt of St Francis himself. His body was buried there in 1230 and was sealed in so that no one would be able to steal it. It was rediscovered in 1818 and accompanying it are the bodies of his most faithful followers, who are all entombed around the crypt also. I am not an overly religious or spiritual person, nor would I say that I don’t believe in a higher power. But the feeling in that crypt was completely different to the rest of the church. It was peaceful and quiet and really did feel quite holy. It wasn’t like walking into any other religious place – it felt special and properly spiritual. I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like it. I would have been happy to sit there in contemplation for hours if we had the time.
But all good things must come to an end, and Assisi was to be our last stop on our journey through northern Italy. We boarded the bus and continued our journey to Rome, stopping at one of the fabulous Autogrills on the way for lunch. Oh how I miss those!