St Francis of Assisi begins his famous Canticle to ‘Brother Sun’, to be honest on our trip to Assisi we became more familiar with rain. Lots of rain, the kind of weather that blows umbrellas inside out and causes less hardy souls to take cover! However, Assisi is beautiful even in the rain and the 35-strong group of Heads and Governors were not daunted by the weather.
Our first day saw us heading to the Basilica of St Francis, where Fr Jeremy Rigden led us on a tour of this beautiful building highlighting the art and the history of the place. Although much of the Art work is stunning for me the sense of St Francis was captured not by the building itself but by the groups from all over the world who came to visit. As you make your way down to the tomb of St Francis silence descends, people clutch candles moving slowly towards the tomb laying their candles beside the tomb and pause to pray. All of us united in a desire to place before God our dreams and fears and to hope that we might be inspired by Francis to be Good News for others. Back into the rain, and back up the hill, (there is a lot of climbing in Assisi) to our hotel. Each of our days in Assisi were marked by moments of prayer and an opportunity to be reflective and the hotel provided a meeting room for us for morning and evening prayer. We are grateful to Fr Jeremy for his support and help during the trip. During subsequent days we visited San Damiano, the place where St Francis received his calling and where St Clare built her monastery and subsequently died. The simplicity is startling after the Basilica and it is a place of reflection, peace and prayer. Clare defeated all attempts to impose a rule on her order which weakened the radical commitment to corporate poverty she had originally embraced and just two days before her death the Pope confirmed that Clare’s rule would serve as the governing rule for her order. The place of her death is marked by a simple cross.
Other highlights of the trip included a visit to Santa Maria Degli Angeli, to visit the Basilica there and to the San Rufino cathedral. The Cathedral is worth visiting in its own right but it also includes a moving display of pictures showing the papacy of Pope John Paul 11. There were other equally enjoyable highlights of the trip which although perhaps less spiritual were memorable. In particular ‘The Potato Song’. One day this unique song in praise of the humble Potato maybe shared with the world but it might need a little more work before then!
This was my second visit to Assisi and I hope that I will have the opportunity to go again. A place of beauty but also of hope and renewal. A place where the past encounters the present, where the issues the church faced in the past resonate with people today and the faith and simplicity of Francis and St Clare still offer possibilities for the future.