Assisi Diary – Day 7

A final day of prayer and last stroll around town was the order of the day. The morning downpour limited the outdoor activity, but somehow brought about a very different atmosphere to the town, something almost mystical and extremely conducive to prayer.
Basilica di San Francesco ©MTHerzog

Prayer. The key word in Assisi, over and beyond the admiration of the old walls and ancient paths and the secret to understanding why you were led here in the first place. For months I questioned why I could not finish my Camino Ignaciano as my spirit so desired, and I have a long list of valid reasons for not making it back to Zaragoza to continue where I left off. St. Ignatius, I believe, had other plans for me, and sent my Jesuit soul off to St. Francis for reasons that are only becoming clear to me now. I don’t remember which philosopher said it, but the words keep bouncing around in my mind: we live life forwards but learn the lessons backwards. The same applies to my spiritual journey and I know in the depths of my soul that I need to keep an open mind in order to understand the events unfolding in my life.

I returned to the Cathedral of San Rufino, only to reaffirm the fact that I really don’t like cathedrals to begin with. They are far too large, cold and impersonal to sink into any kind of prayer, no matter how silent it may be. The thick walls and high ceiling did nothing to comfort me, so after lighting a few candles I made my way back out again.
There was no real direction or system to follow, I just wanted to meander around and let my feet surprise me. So it was that we ended up in the Chiesa Nuova (The New Church), a small, dark and overcrowded chapel that marks the place where St. Francis was born. “Awful” was the first word that came to mind because it was full of tour groups and people flashing their mobiles and iPads around to capture the moment. Prayer was impossible, for me at least, and I truly admired the monk sitting in a corner with his eyes closed ignoring the mayhem around him. My claustrophobia got the better of me, and Champagne also meowed in protest, so out we went and did a bit of window shopping instead. Assisi is definitely not the place to do any major souvenir shopping, though the prices are humane and not the usual highway robbery that you will find in other tourist traps like Florence, Venice, or Rome.
Templo Sopro Minerva ©MTHerzog

We found ourselves back in the Piazza Comunale, or the main market square, and I noticed a sharp increase of new arrivals in town, more Germans and Swiss this time, as compared to the wave of Spaniards, Italians and Chinese that had dominated the previous week. And I entered the one church that had caught my attention from the first day but avoided all along. Santa Maria Sopro Minerva, also referred to as Templo di Minerva, is a 16th century church built on top of a former Roman temple dedicated to Minerva constructed in 1 BC. The spectacular outer Roman facade is far more impressive than the interior, and I suspect most visitors, like me, are disappointed with the start contrast. I honestly don’t know what I expected, but definitely something less baroque and ornate.

Assisi from the Piazza di Santa Chiara ©MTHerzog 

In any case, I end my stay in Assisi with serenity, fortified and ready to return to the over-structured and mega-regulated life in Germany. I fulfilled a promise, received the gift of time, and celebrated life. I draw courage from Ignatius, my fighting Jesuit, but for inner peace he sent me to the contemplative Francis so I could resurface with a renewed fighting spirit.

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