The retreat activities will include frequent afternoon excursions to sites in or near Assisi that embody the compassionate life of St. Francis and which are historic highlights of Italy’s vibrant culture.
THE BASILICA OF ST. FRANCIS
This beautiful church is one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Italy. The basilica, begun in 1228, is built into the side of a hill and consists of two churches known as the Upper church and the Lower Church. St Francis was born and died in Assisi and his remains are interred in a crypt inside the basilica. The Upper and Lower churches are decorated with frescoes by many prominent medieval painters, which adds to the importance of the basilica as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The basilica is a prominent landmark as one approaches Assisi and is a place that retreat participants may want to visit more than once.
A Pilgrimage Site for the Footsteps Retreat in Assisi
The tiny church of the Portiuncula, according to legend, was first erected in the 4th century CE. By the time of St. Francis in the 13th century, it was an abandoned chapel, in ruins, situated on a path in the woods. St. Francis had taken a vow to restore churches that had fallen into ruins and the Portiuncula was the second such church he restored. The small chapel was given to Francis by the abbot of Saint Benedict of Monte Subasio on condition of making it the motherhouse of his religious family. In this neighborhood was born the Franciscan Order. As he was dying, St. Francis asked to be brought back to the Portiuncula, where he died, on Saturday, October 3, 1226. For St. Francis and his followers, the Portiuncula was a primary source of inspiration.
Today the tiny church of the Portiuncula is located within the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, a short distance from Assisi. The basilica was built in the 16th century over the Portiuncula chapel. The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Portiuncula are primary pilgrimage destinations for the Footsteps retreat.
The church and convent of San Damiano is where St. Francis’s remarkable spiritual journey began. It is where he first received his miraculous calling in 1205 and where St. Clare died in 1253. The simple convent is located in a beautiful setting just outside the walls of Assisi.
It was originally a small, dilapidated old Benedictine priory. It was there that, when the young Francesco was praying before a 12th-century cross, the Christ on the crucifix came to life and spoke to Francis, saying “Rebuild my church.” Francis took the command literally and began reconstructing the church with his own hands. The church later became a regular retreat for Francis and his followers and it was here that he wrote the first draft of his celebrated, Canticle of the Creatures.
St. Clare, follower and close friend of Francis, founded her Order of the Poor Clares, here at San Damiano. She lived here most of her life as its abbess.
SAN DAMIANO CONVENT, ASSISI
EREMO DELLE CARCERI
In 1205, when St. Francis first began coming to this beautiful place in the forest, the only building here was a tiny 12th-century chapel. Francis lived nearby alone in a cave and spent his time in intensive prayer. Soon other devoted followers came to the mountain, finding their own isolated caves in which to pray. These friars occasionally gathered together for communal prayer in the chapel.
In the centuries that followed, various buildings were added around St. Francis’ cave and the original chapel, creating the sizeable complex that exists at this time. Today, the hermitage is still occupied by Franciscans.
The peacefully isolated church and monastery on the densely wooded slopes of Mt. Subiaso retain the tranquil, contemplative atmosphere loved by St. Francis.