The Cathedral of Assisi

The Chiesa di San Rufino is the Duomo or the Cathedral of Assisi.  The cathedral is the seat of the local bishop.  Rufino was Assisi’s first bishop, it’s Patron Saint, and was martyred and buried here in the third century.  It was inspirational to be in the same church where St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized.  It was also the bishop blessed Francis’ “spiritual awakening.”  It is still the official baptismal site for the village of Assisi.

The Romanesque facade is believed to have been completed in the early 13th century.  The interior is Neoclassical.  It was beautifully restored after a 1997 earthquake.

The facade is divided vertically into three sections and horizontally into three stories with a row of blind arches between the the first two.  All three portals are richly sculpted with red marble relief in the lunettes and geometric designs and figures around the entries.

Two lions stand guard at the central portal, with one eating a Christian martyr and the other clutching a ram in its claws.

Over the central portal the red marble relief depicts Christ enthroned beneath the moon and a star, with the Madonna del Latte to the left and St. Rufinus to the right.

The central rosette shows symbols of the Evangelists surrounding the intricate rose which is supported by three extraordinary figures standing on unidentifiable animals.

As I entered the rear of the church my eyes were immediately drawn to the two fine statues of St. Francis and St. Clare by Giovanni Dupre in 1888.

artistically edited due to poor lighting to an ‘antique’ style

artistically edited due to poor lighting to an ‘antique’ style

The next attraction was actually the floor.  Large glass panels exposed parts of the ninth century foundation.  Apparently after the 1997 earthquake inspectors discovered graves under the paving stones.  It was a common practice to bury people in the churches.  I have seen this in ancient Scandinavian churches as well.  It is also likely that this church was built upon old Roman temple ruins.  A cistern is also visible from the rear of the church.  The Diocesan museum is underneath the church as part of the foundation of the early church of San Rufino where the saint’s sarcophagus and ancient art can be seen.

The floor also displayed large red marble reliefs, one with the Franciscan Tau and the other with “abba Father.”

The baptismal font has a black iron gate around it and a terracotta cover over it (installed in 1882).  It is here in the San Rufino that Francis was baptized circa 1181 and Clare was baptized in 1194.  Eighteen years later it was here that Clare heard Francis teach and decided to dedicate her life to following Jesus.  Emperor Frederick II is believed to have been baptized here in the early 1190s.

Above the entrance to the chapel to the right stands a fresco by Giovanni Andrea Carlone, The Sacrifice of Elijah.  It depicts the contest between the prophets of Baal and Elijah.  Each prepared to sacrifice a bull and called on God to light the fire.  Elijah’s prayer was answered the prophet of Baal was not.  The people consequently returned to the one and only true living God and killed the prophets who had attempted to lead them astray.

There is also a beautiful Processional banner from the early 16th century which is variously attributed to Berto de Giovanni or Dono Doni and was incorporated as the altarpiece of the  Altare di San Giuseppe in San Rufino in 1670.  It depicts St. Joseph showing the Virgin’s wedding ring to an audience of kneeling men and women with a landscape of Assisi behind.

The predella (the base of the alterpiece) contains three panels depicting the Holy Family with SS Antony of Padua (on the left) and Bernardino of Siena (on the right) by Dono Doni.

The slide show has photos of Pope John Paul II and of the rose window looking from the inside with filters to appreciate the detail.

As always, with any visit to an inspirational setting such as the Chiesa di San Rufino, all the photos in the world can not capture the “Holy Spirit’s” touch on my heart or soul when sitting in this cathedral … all alone … in absolute silence.  I can hear Him “calling me” … “Come follow me.”

I can only answer with the simple prayer … Here I am Lord.  Show me how.  I am willing.  Help me stay on your path.

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