Assisi has long been a popular pilgrimage site, due to the fame of its native son and daughter, St. Francis and St. Clare, and the Basilicas built in their honor. In the U.S., Francis and Clare are associated closely with animals and the environment, which always made them (of all the saints out there) particularly interesting to me. The choice of the current Pope to take the name Francis out of respect for St. Francis’ commitment to the poor renewed my interest in these historical saints. And Assisi is a beautiful Italian hill town. So Assisi was part of our itinerary. Rather than give you a blow-by-blow on ABC (x2), I’ll provide links below and share some of my reflections instead.
The Franciscans and the Poor Clares, as well as the members of the associated third orders (who can marry and have jobs), commit to obedience, chastity, and poverty. (The animal/environment connection was not very strong in the Assisi sights.) The Basilicas of San Francesco and Santa Chiara, as they are called here, showcase art that tells the stories of their lives and represents these vows. Both churches and their associated crypts are large and ornate. So I did wonder what Sts. Francis and Clare would think of the resources that were used to build these structures, instead of helping the poor and working towards social justice. The other thing that struck me was something I read in the church about St. Clare feeling penitent and being willing to accept whatever punishment was offered for her sins. This, from a woman who has given up a life of privilege to pray and work and serve. She still didn’t feel “enough.” This made me sad. Like Francis and Clare, I want to work towards the greater good, live with dignity and honor, and deemphasize the role of material possessions and money. But I also want to feel enough.
Basilica of St. Francis:
On Assisi and Umbria:
Tuscany gets all the attention. Umbria, though, is stunning. We visited Orvieto, Perugia, and Assisi and found them all beautiful and (mostly) peaceful. As hill towns, though, they do have hills. And stairs. Many hills and stairs. Just be aware of this when you make your itinerary choices. There is a reason Tuscany is more popular for bike touring. All of the hill towns had nice squares, charming back streets, non-chain shopping, and plenty of pasta, pizza, and gelato. And beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. Assisi might be the least interesting of the three we visited, except for the pilgrimage aspects. It seemed the least like a “real town.”
On traveling with others:
After traveling as a couple for almost three months, we were a little anxious about adding my mother and aunt to the rhythm of the trip that we had established. It turned out much better than expected. They endured the bumps in the road (no hot water when they arrived, many more stairs than anyone expected) with grace and composure and jumped right in to helping with meal planning, shopping, prep, and clean-up (necessary components of low-budget travel). Having multiple bedrooms in all the places we stayed was definitely helpful. A second bathroom in Rome was also important, as it was our longest stay. If I were planning a similar trip again, I would make sure each lodging had at least 1 1/2 baths for 4 people. And I would be more careful about verifying stairs and lifts. Our last two flats had far too many stairs and no lifts. Though Maureen and I were well conditioned to that by this point in the trip, Mom and Janet were not, and I also did not enjoy lugging our big suitcase up and down those steps (more reason NOT to choose the big suitcase, but “it is what it is” at this point). Finally, I woke up both the morning that they left and the next morning (our first morning in Nice) thinking that Mom and Janet were still in the next room and disappointed when I realized that they were not. I would recommend short periods of “sharing your trip” to anyone traveling for a long time.