Assisi Diary – Day 5

The time for exploring the outskirts of Assisi proper are over, and the remaining time here will focus entirely on Assisi. I’m struggling with a cold, so breathing has become a challenge in this hilly town, but the fresh air is good for clearing the sinuses, not to mention the head. I slept in most of the day, giving my body a chance to recover a bit, but in the afternoon the exploration began.

In order to fully understand and appreciate Assisi, it is essential to keep in mind the relationship between St. Francis and St. Clare, who established the Franciscan Order and the Poor Clares (Order of Saint Clare) respectively. Theirs was a strong bond of spiritual friendship that fortified each other’s work and left the world a legacy that has changed and influenced the lives of so many. There was nothing romantic about their friendship, though the world thought so and society often misjudged them, but their common faith in Christ and individual courage to carry out their work and missions spoke for themselves. Some refer to them as the new Adam and Eve, others refer to Francis and Clare as brother and sister, but they were neither, and yet were everything to each other.  They were opposites in almost every possible way, but identical where it mattered most. So even the location of the two basilicas dedicated to St. Clare and St. Francis here in Assisi continue to reflect this relationship, being on opposite sides of town but together forming the two strongest pillars of the community.

Cathedral of San Rufino de Assisi

The first stop of the walk was the Cathedral of San Rufino of Assisi, which has played a major role in Umbrian history for centuries, even before the establishment of the Franciscan Order and Poor Clares. It’s almost impossible to get a clear shot of this place, first of all because the piazza where it is located is small to begin with, and second, it is never devoid of people no matter what time of the day or night you visit.

Basilica di Santa Chiara ©MTHerzog

Continuing down the cobblestoned alleys and steps I emerged at the Basilica di Santa Chiara, or St. Clare’s Basilica. The remains of St Clare are buried here though this was not the original tomb. The church is built at the edge of a cliff overlooking the spectacular valley and surrounded by olive orchards that will invade your photo no matter what you do. By the time set foot inside the church, mass was going on and was just at the beginning of the consecration. Perfect timing, so I stood in prayer and decided to forgo the visit to the crypt. This was my little way of celebrating All Saints and remembering my dearly departed. I visited the Monastery de Santa Clara in Manila before moving to Germany, and here I am in Assisi again at the church of St. Clare, on the onset of a new phase of my life.

Friera dei Morti ©MTHerzog 

Before mass, I noticed a small gathering of people dressed in medieval costumes, and had the impression there was going to be a procession. The Fiera Dei Morti (Festival of the Dead) is a huge celebration in Perugia, but here in Assisi it was confined to a small procession, complete with drummers and flame throwers, between the basilica and the main town piazza. It is nothing like what you might experience at the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico, and from what I witnessed last night, it was more of a celebration of life than the mourning, the perfect message.

Contemplative silence ©MTHerzog 

A night walk around town is a must for anyone who appreciates the silence of the empty streets and the contemplative atmosphere of darkness. At some point, the walls begin to whisper a certain timelessness that accompanies and haunts at the same time. I could stay here for weeks and just pray and write, so the precious little time I have here for healing is a gift.

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