Merry Christmas to you and yours;
May you experience genuine peace … despite your circumstances … this Christmas and all through the new year as you begin to truly realize God’s amazing love shown through his son, Jesus.
My Exhibit includes photos while on my first “Chasing Francis” Spirit Venture in 2012 with photos from Assisi, Rome and Florence. It is at the RoxyAnn Winery in Medford, Oregon. Come on by for a glass of Cabernet Franc:)
If you are interested in joining us we will be going again next spring during the last couple of weeks in March. Pax et Bonum
The Basilica di San Francesco is a distinctive landmark that can be seen from miles away as you approach Assisi. As you draw nearer you can appreciate the huge supporting arcades. The Basilica of St. Francis is considered one of the artistic highlights of medieval Europe, as well as one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in the world. It is definitely a ‘must see’ while visiting or on pilgrimage as it continues to be a powerful place both for believers and art-lovers alike. The basilica is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor more commonly known as the Franciscan Order.
Brother Francis died in October of 1226 and less than two years later his disciple and fellow-worker Brother Elias (of Cortona) had plans underway for construction of a church in his honor. The Friars Minor, Pope Gregory IX (who, as a cardinal, enjoyed a close friendship with Francis), and the people of Assisi were all involved in supporting the early construction of what became an incongruously grandiose and beautifully embellished memorial to a profoundly converse man who preached and lived a simple life of poverty, abstinence, and renunciation of worldly goods in search of a greater spirituality.
It is believed that Brother Elias, although devout, was more worldly that Francis, and the popularity of the Franciscan order through the ages owes a great deal to Elias’ marketing skills.
Construction began in 1228. The basilica was built into the side of a hill and actually consists of two churches known as the Upper Church and Lower Church, and the saint’s tomb which is yet below the Lower Church. A site for the church was donated to Pope Gregory by Simone di Pucciarello on the western tip of Asio hill outside the Assisi city walls on what was known as the “Hill of Hell” where criminals were put to death. It is now called the “Hill of Paradise”.
Francis was declared a saint on July 16, 1228 and the following day the pope laid the first stone of the Church of St. Francis. The Lower Church was quickly finished by 1230, and on Pentecost May 25, 1230 the body of St. Francis was taken from its temporary burial place St. George, now the Basilica of Saint Clare of Assisi, to the Lower Church (or Lower Basilica). The actual burial place was hidden in the earth beneath the high alter and sealed up with stone to protect St. Francis’ remains. It was not till 1818 that the tomb of St. Francis was rediscovered beneath the high altar. After being hidden for nearly 600 years the coffin was opened and Francis’ skeleton was found completely intact. A new crypt was built first in neo-Classical style then later in a simpler neo-Romanesque style. Thus modern pilgrims are able to approach the very tomb of St. Francis, which no medieval pilgrims were ever able to do. (Notes from Sacred Destinations)
Construction was begun on the Upper Church in 1239 and completed in 1253. Both churches were consecrated by Pope Innocent IV in 1253 and designated a Major Basilica in 1288. On September 26, 1997 two earthquakes hit this region of Italy damaging many ancient buildings. The Lower Church walls are nearly nine feet thick and were unscathed while the Upper Church with larger windows and walls only three feet thick were damaged. An aftershock killed two Franciscan friars and two specialists while they were inspecting the damage to the Basilica. Many of the frescoes of the life of St. Francis by Giotto in the Upper Church were destroyed in the collapse. The basilica was closed for two years for restoration.
The photo above shows the lower piazza and the side entrance to the Lower Church in the early morning before the activity of the day. The alternating striped colors of the street almost seem like an escalator drawing you toward the grand side entrance.
By mid day the piazza becomes a hub of activity with tourists and pilgrims. Here are a couple of young art students on an “art venture”.
This is the grand side entrance to the Lower Church showing the stairway to the Upper Piazza and Upper Church and the benediction loggia on the left side of the facade and supporting curtain wall which was added in 1754.
This equestrian statue is one of my favorites showing Francis with his head hung low as he slinks back home after God has told him to “let go” of his dream of becoming a heroic “knight in shining armor” and to instead follow the way of Jesus.As much as the outside architecture of the basilica is interesting and beautiful, the inside of the basilica is even more so. It is frescoed from top to bottom by the leading artists of the day with works from Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini, and Pietro Lorenzetti. Unfortunately photography was not permitted inside. But taking time to experience the inside will convince you that it is as spectacular as the Vatican or St. Peter’s Cathedral in a simpler beauty. Discovery Venture Tours has scheduled another Spirit Venture – “Chasing Francis” next year from March 19th to the 29th. We will be spending 6 nights in Assisi and 4 nights in Rome. Below is the brochure. It was such an amazing experience many of us are going back. Let us know if you are interested in joining us.
(Notes from Rick Steves, Sacred Destinations, and Wikipedia)
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.
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.
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.
While on our pilgrimage to Assisi we had a ‘free’ day and several of us decided to take the train to Florence and “Do Florence in a Day.” Despite the rain showers and the accelerated pace not being able to take the time to go into any of the many magnificent art museums it was still one of the highlights of my trip and succeeded in giving me a great desire to return someday to truly take in all the history and art of the birth of the Renaissance.
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore(Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower)–the Duomo, or the cathedral of Florence–quite literally dominates the city with its enormous dome. No other building stands taller in the city. Its construction was begun in 1296 by Sienese architect Arnolfo di Cambio and took nearly 150 years to complete. The dome was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. It is 115m high and 42m wide and remains after six centuries since its completion the largest masonry dome in the world. It consists of eight marble ribs, a gold-appointed lantern and four million bricks.
It was constructed in Gothic style with the exterior being faced with polychrome marble panels in shades of green, pink, and white. Bricks of varying size were set in a self-supporting herringbone pattern — a technique Brunelleschi copied from the Pantheon in Rome.
We climbed up the 463 increasingly narrow steps to the very top of the dome. Brunelleschi achieved building this dome without scaffolding. As you are climbing you can see how an inner shell provides a platform for the timbers that support the outer shell.
As you are climbing up the increasingly narrow steps to the top there are occasional windows to peek out and appreciate the red roofed city of Florence below. Once on the top you can not help to marvel at the supporting marble ribs.
Then of course the huff up the 463 steps all becomes worthwhile when you take in the spectacular views over the city of Florence.
You can also see the Campanile, the cathedral’s soaring bell tower which is 85 m (276ft) high but 6m (20ft) shorter than the dome. It was begun in 1334 by Giotto and is constructed in a similar elaborate Gothic style and clad in white, green and pink Tuscan marble.
While ascending the steps you can look up and take in the frescoes of Vasari’s Last Judgement that fills the interior of the dome.
There of course is more to ‘take in’ and next time, Lord willing, the museums in the bell tower, more of the interior of the dome, and the Baptistery, and when the weather is more agreeable I imagine the Piazza del Duomo comes alive.
While in Rome I visited the Pantheon. I was really impressed by it. When you consider its size, age, and structure it truly is an engineering marvel. For starters I expected it to be out more in the open like the Colosseum for all the world to see, but instead it is sandwiched into a neighborhood.
As you are walking through the narrow streets of Rome and enter the Piazza della Rotunda, the Pantheon suddenly looms before your eyes … a huge monument of architectural triumph … having survived the test of time. It is likely the best preserved of all the buildings of ancient Rome.
It was oringinally built in 27 B.C. as a temple to all (pan) gods. It was damaged later by a couple of fires and was rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian circa A.D. 120 and is perhaps the most influential building in art history.
The ancient portico columns are an impressive 40 feet high and are made of single pieces of red-gray granite taken from an Egyptian temple. The holes in the triangular pediment once held a huge bronze Roman Eagle.
The porch ceiling was originally covered in bronze plating, but this was removed in the 17th century by the scavenging pope from the Barberini family.
The dome was the largest made until the Renaissance and is a testament to Roman engineering. It became a model for the Florence cathedral, Michelangelo’s dome of the St. Peter’s, and even Washington D.C.’s capitol building.
The dome is set on a circular base and is as high (142 feet from the floor tho the rooftop) as it is wide. It is made from concrete which was a Roman invention. It gets lighter and thinner as it reaches the top. The base is 23 feet thick and made from a heavier concrete mixed with travertine, but the top is less than five feet thick and is mixed with lighter volcanic rock. The indentions or ‘coffered’ ceiling reduces the weight of the dome without losing strength. The oculus, or eye-in-the-sky, is the only light source and measures nearly 30 feet across. The floor is 1800 years old. It has holes and slants toward the edges to let the rainwater drain off. (Notes taken from Rick Steve’s excellent travel book on Rome)
The Pantheon survived the Dark Ages primarily due to being transformed into a church. Centuries after Hadrian finished the rebuilding project the Roman Empire had been nearly completely evangelized and Emperor Phocas gave it to the church. Then in the year 609 Pope Boniface IV transformed it into the church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres. From that time on it has become a great reliquary, because the Pope wished it to be the final resting-place of the mortal remains of thousands of Christians, many of them martyrs, which until then had been buried in the Catacombs.
It was almost at the dawn of the Middle Ages that the dedication of the former Pantheon to the Christian Martyrs showed how deeply indebted the Church felt to those who had borne witness to Christ to the extreme of giving their lives for their faith. Tarcisius, Agnes, Cecillia, Perpetua, and Polycarp are examples of Christian faith in Christ being stronger than all the legions of Rome. “They had triumphed, like their Master, in the madness of the Cross, and so merited to be hymned and venerated down the centuries.” (Notes from Opus Dei)
“Chasing Francis is written in a genre called wisdom literature, which is a very delicate balance of fiction and nonfiction, pilgrimage and teaching.” Ian Morgan Cron wrote this very witty and engaging novel apparently after much research and gives credit to many authors whose writings or ideas influenced passages in his book. There is a study guide at the end of the book to help us get the most from his book and he encourages us to get on line at www.chasingfrancis.com to learn more about Saint Francis.
“Chasing Francis is not a history or a spirituality book, though it contains elements of both. It is a novel that touches a little something in the inner troubles of most of us who try to follow Jesus faithfully in a modern western environment. Delightful!”
JOHN MICHAEL TALBOT, founder, spiritual father, and general minister, The Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage
“By guiding us to wrestle deeply with a crisis of faith experience and by re-introducing us to a giant of faith, Ian Cron paves for us a path of grace, humility, and ultimate joy even through our “ground zero” darkness. This is a life-changing work. I now find myself “chasing Francis” in my life as well as in my art.”
MAKOTO FUJIMURA, artist/writer, New York City
Having read Chasing Francis myself, I too feel that Ian touched on something that has been tugging on my heart. There is a part of me that feels I have not been truly satisfying my thirst for God. I desire to somehow make more of an impact in “my world” for my Jesus who gave his all for me. Does “my world” see me as being different in any positive way or am I so much like the world that I am not making an impact? How many of you upon introspection feel the same?
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”
Welcome to Franciscus Meus.
I did not really have any big plans for traveling this year. But I believe God has opened a door that I cannot ignore. A couple of weeks ago an incredible opportunity presented itself. I met David Rapp of Water’s Edge Community Church and Discovery Venture Tours. He has arranged a debut Spirit Venture or ‘pilgrimage tour’ to Italy “CHASING FRANCIS: Assisi, Rome, and more.”
David has been taking groups of youngsters and adults all over the world for many years. He designed this tour after the current popular novel, “Chasing Francis” by Ian Morgan Cron.
The package consists of 7 nights in Assisi and 3 in Rome and will include tours, excursions, historic pilgrimage sites, prayer, Eucharist celebrations, engaging discussions over great Italian food and wine, and as you can well imagine there will be nonstop great photo opportunities.
This is an invitation for you to join us and hop on this Spirit Venture to Italy from April 11th through the 21st. We need more pilgrims. There are still a few openings. Unfortunately this is very short notice. You only have 9 days to sign up. David is hoping for a group of no more than 20. Go to www.discoveryventuretours.com and get all the information and the itinerary.
My blog on Chasing Francis is entitled Franciscus Meus, “My Francis,” and will include thoughts on Ian Cron’s book and interesting facts about Francis and eventually photos from the tour. Come ‘pilgrim’ with me. Click here to read all my Franciscus Meus posts.