The Feast of St. Francis was just ending the day I arrive in Assisi. Games and merrymaking brought many pilgrims from far and near to take part in the celebration of their most beloved saint. Francis’ basilica flows with heavenly music as choirs and orchestras let lose their poetic melodies. souvenir booths line the streets selling mementos while costumed revelers stroll the piazzas in medieval attire. This Feast commemorates the saint’s transition from this life to the afterlife. It is Assisi’s biggest day of the year.
The October weather is pleasant as I step off the train from Rome. The surrounding hills and valleys of Assisi bask in a golden autumn glow that looks surreal. Pilgrims who made the trek to the party begin to disperse as early morning fog dissipates from the valley floor. Little Assisi becomes its normal self once again. I haul my pull-bag and nap sack up the brick alleyway to a tall medieval house. A small room awaits me in the home of this private residence, complete with a little cot, a dresser, and a chair with desk. Enchanted with St. Francis since I was a small child, I’m eager to discover more about him during the week of my stay.
Medieval Assisi’s brickwork architecture and clean wooden doorways cause me to feel as if I’ve stepped through a portal into the 13th century. Shops line the streets with local tradespeople at work making their pottery, shoes, breads and oils. Wine shops, aromatic trattorias, clothing boutiques, well-stocked book shops, gift shops and bakeries beckon to those passing by. Espresso and fresh-baked croissants infuse the early morning air.
Assisi keeps me fully engaged as I immerse myself in walking the path of Francis.
Birdsong trills through the air as I hike down the trail from the medieval village to San Damiano, the church St. Francis restored in 1205. Olive groves accentuate the countryside and the air is fresh and sweet. It is early Sunday morning and the church service begins inside the medieval chapel. Old and untouched, I almost expect to see Francis and his brothers walk through the door and take part in the humble service.
” All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” St. Francis
My week in Assisi flits by all too quickly. On the eve of my departure, harmoniously angelic music plays inside St. Francis Basilica. An orchestra fills the entrance accompanied by candlelight which flickers and illuminates Giotto’s colorful frescoes. Women in black dresses and high heels accompany men in suits. I’m caught up in the sublimity of class and elegance on this warm enchanted evening. Little did I know that the following morning would temporarily quench the spell.
Rain hammers against my windowpane as flashes of lightning illuminate the tiny room. It is 4:30 am. Oh fun…twenty minutes to be out the door and down the hill to catch my bus from medieval Assisi to the train station. I stumble and shiver in the dark while gathering my things together into one small malfunctioning pull-bag.
It doesn’t take me long to be on my way. St. Francis and his brothers come to mind as I turn the corner from my front door and drag my bag behind me down the wet cobblestone streets under a relentless downpour of rain. Their resolve to live in poverty causes me to wonder, in the midst of these miserable elements, how they did it. Dressed in only a habit and no shoes, they endured all kinds of weather, begging for their next meal. During my stay, I thoroughly enjoyed walking, in shoes and sunlight, where his twelfth century bare feet had trod.
Only a few lamps from small windows illuminate the darkness. As I brace myself against the pelting rain, I seek temporary refuge in a doorway. But the thresholds are shallow and provide no shelter. By the time I reach the bus stop, I’m drenched to the bone. My jeans and jacket cling to me like skin. Water runs off the ends of my disheveled hair.
The bus takes me to the station where I board my train to Florence. By the time I step out into the Renaissance city’s promising streaks of sunshine a few hours later, I’m beginning to dry out and warm up. Cradling a warm cappuccino, I take a moment to ponder my week in Assisi. It was magical. St. Francis and his friends are where I left them ~ dwelling within their cobbled medieval hometown of Assisi, virtually untouched by time.