The soft footprint of St. Francis in Assisi

Our first view of Assisi
Our first view of Assisi. The cathedral, Basilica di San Francesco, is on the left. The castle, Rocca Maggiore can be seen in the center and St. Francis' hermitage is somewhere beyond the photo to the right.

Assisi is an “overgrown village” with a huge cathedral, on the side of one of Mt. Subasio’s foothills. It has a population of about 3000 people, but hosts about five million visitors every year.  Frommer’s writes, “This constant flood of travelers has polished the usual hill-town charm right off Assisi.”

But if you stay in the town, as we did, like our experience in San Gimignano, in the late night and early morning after the tourists in their cars and the tour buses have pulled away,  this area of Italy where St. Francis and St. Clare walked and prayed holds quite enough charm for me.

Piazza del Commune
Piazza del Commune—the Temple of Minerva is on the right. It was built by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. and has since been converted into a church.

Our hotel was off a short alley from the main square in town called the Piazza del Commune.

Frescoes inside the Basilica di San Francesco
Frescoes inside the Basilica di San Francesco

Our first stop was the Basilica di San Francesco at the edge of town. Inside, frescoes by Giotto tell the story of St. Francis’ life.

Basilica di San Francesco
Basilica di San Francesco

“But suffice it to say that Assisi’s grandiose, gorgeously embellished Basilica di San Francesco is an incongruous memorial to a man who preached and lived an utterly simple life.” (Frommers).

Down the large stone staircase from the cathedral, open shelters were constructed for pilgrims as a place to camp for the night. We caught a taxi from here and went to see St. Francis’ hermitage on Mt. Subasio.

St. Francis hermitage
St. Francis hermitage

Monks now live in the hermitage tucked into the wooded hillside where St. Francis often went to meditate and pray. We saw the stone bed, a simple indentation in the stone floor, where St. Francis slept, and took a short walk along a trail in the woods.

Sunrays—a view from St. Francis hermitage
Sunrays—a view from St. Francis hermitage

Our taxi driver waited for us a half hour. We were concerned about letting him go and not being able to get a ride back. Unfortunately, for me, a half hour was not enough to soak up the peace that can be found simply by sitting along the walkway in this place.

Inside Rocca Maggiore
Inside Rocca Maggiore

We decided to take the taxi up to Rocca Maggiore instead of back to town. Rocca Maggiore was built by Cardinal Albornoz in the 14th century to establish papal authority over Assisi—a striking visual of the medieval church’s reach for civil power. It was a fun, not very crowded place to tour.

Rocca Maggiore
View of wall to octagonal tower taken from first tower.

We had free reign of the castle ruins. We entered the outer walls and saw the recently restored keep and soldiers’ quarters.

Rocca Maggiore
Walkway through wall to the lookout tower.

Then we took a very long, narrow corridor lit by repeating arrow slits (and a few electric light bulbs) to a polygonal watchtower with a panoramic view.

Rocca Maggiore
View of Rocca Maggiore taken from the walk back down to town.

Our taxi driver assured us it was an easy walk back to town from the castle—all downhill.

Santa Chiara
A view of Santa Chiara taken from Rocca Maggiore

After stopping for gelato on our way back down, we went on to Santa Chiara—the resting place of St. Clare‘s bones and St. Francis’ miraculous crucifix. Inside the church, a small museum displays St. Clare’s handmade dress, her hair shirt and a robe St. Francis wore among other things.

Sunset in Assisi
Sunset from the terrace in front of Santa Chiara

Santa Chiara is located on a terrace-like piazza with views over the valley.

In the morning Mark and I got up and went to a mass that was entirely in Italian (go figure). Then we left our cozy bed and breakfast with the rooftop patio and drove on to Rome.


Photos by Christine M. Grote and Mark Joseph Grote
Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote

See more links to posts about Italy on my “Places I’ve Been” page.

Frommer’s Florence, Tuscany & Umbria, 6th ed., by John Moretti, Wiley Publishing,NJ, 2008

66 thoughts on “The soft footprint of St. Francis in Assisi”

  1. wow, sounds like you had a good time. Great view from the castle and great sunset shot. I need to go back to Italy one day and see all the places that’s less touristy.

  2. THere is a great amount of logical detail and beauty in how you write and capture your travels. Really could feel the texture of the buildings and appreciate the lighting in your pics too.
    Well done and thanks for taking us on your journey

  3. Really beautiful photos, I keep saying I am going to travel and see the world and your photos make me wish I was there. I guess my dreams of world travel is why I have started a country flag angel collection in my craft line I am selling.

  4. Thank you for these pictures, and so glad you made Freshly Pressed–congratulations!

    Your lovely pictures reminded me of my visit to Assisi, a very, very special place. Thank you again.

  5. I just got home from a semester abroad in Rome through Temple University. I have had the study abroad blues since December! Thanks for reminding me why I miss Italy so much!! Haha, great post!

  6. I loved Assisi. And I love that sunset shot. Being able to pray where he prayed was unforgettable. Thank you for bringing back some lovely memories.

    Congratulations on being FP!

  7. Fascinating photos! This seems like a great place to visit. It’s really interesting, but St. Francis has been on my mind lately since I’m studying a Liszt piece inspired by him.

  8. Your pictures have made want to go to Assisi even more now! St. Francis is my ‘day saint’ as his holy day is on my birthday (10/4) — I have been entranced by his life and St. Clare’s since I first read about them as a child and then as a teenager seeing the movie ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’. You were so lucky to have been able to go to such a holy place. Thank you for sharing your experience! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  9. What a beautiful post. I could feel your serenity in the words and the gorgeous photos. We were one of those tourists that stopped there for the day, but we got to sample some of the local charm when my husband decided, spur of the moment that he needed a haircut so we stopped in at a barber shop we saw on our way back to the parking lot!!!

  10. Ahh, Assisi. One of my favorite memories of my time in Italy was eating pupu’s with local wine on our rooftop Assisi hotel room, looking down at the twinkling lights in the valley below. Great photos!

  11. Gorgeous. I wish that my mother was “connected” so she could see these. Thanks so much for sharing your travels with everyone.

    Congrats on being FP!

  12. I like that some of the clouds “posed” for your pictures, adding that perfect background. It looks like it was a very remarkable trip — thanks for sharing the experience.

  13. hello, there. 😀

    wow! as in, wow! you took great pics and as i was reading, i felt i was there with you. at least, i felt the solemnity and tranquility of the places and boy, those walls are massive!

    am going to brush up on my reading about st. francis of assisi. thanks for sharing this. 😀

  14. I’m so excited this post was Freshly Pressed so I could find it! I went to Assisi many years ago, and it was my favorite city in Italy. I loved eating pizza on the cobblestone roads, climbing that monster of a hill to the basilica and looking over the town. It was the perfect day. Beautiful scenery, small but busy city, green hillside, the feeling of peace walking through the basilica courtyards. Oh, thank you for sharing these photos, it was lovely to reminisce with you!

  15. Thank goodness for cameras. How else would I see all the wonderful places that I may never be able to travel to?!

    Thank you for the fabulous tour!

  16. Beautiful photos… My husband and I are planning to go to Italy this summer, and we thought of visiting Assisi. it has a great view, and the way St.Francis lived is amazing.

  17. It’s such a beautiful place! I’ve been there more than 10 years ago and I loved it. Thank you very much for reminding me of that beautiful summer with your photos and stories.

  18. I totally agree about there being too many tourists. As breathtakingly beautiful as it was, when I visited I just felt the energy being sucked out of me because every step sort of felt like a battle through lots of Americans with their just-bought rosarys and figurines of the saints. As you said – it’s definitely the very early morning and late at night when you’re actually able to catch a glimpse of the real beauty.

  19. Wonderful pictures and account of your visit, I wonder if the clock in the town squares till chimes 8 bells when it is 6 o’clock? It did when I was there a while ago!

  20. Thank you so much for allowing us to go on your journey. I could feel the peace that you mentioned not having enough time to soak up. You have an amazing eye; such beautiful photos. As an animal lover I’ve always wanted to visit this place. Maybe someday. For now I’m thankful to see it through your lens.
    Peace to you ~


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: