This is the fifth in my series of posts from my family’s trip to Italy with the St. Mary’s of the Lake Choir from Skaneateles, NY. If you’d like to check out the earlier posts, you can find them by clicking these links – PART1, PART2, PART3, PART4
The word for today, as we made the two hour journey northward from Rome to Assisi was Open. As Father Bob continued his series of talks based on these words, I had no idea the profound impact learning about St. Francis and St. Clare would have on me and how appropriate this word of the day was.
Italian Olive Tree
The scenery during this trip was beautiful. The rolling hills and mountains of central Italy, with intermittent towns nestled among them, was captivating. We saw many olive trees and we learned some interesting facts about the trees and olives of Italy.
Unlike other countries like Spain and Argentina, Italy prunes their olive trees. As a result, they yield superior olives and their trunks become very large in girth. There are trees in that are over 1,000 years old and the olive oil they produce is superior to that of other countries. It is rare to find real Italian olive oil in the U.S. I checked our containers of olive oil when we got home and, sure enough, my imported oil was from Argentina and Spain.
Our arrival in Assisi was in a bus parking lot at the bottom of a sizable hill. Assisi is a city of hills with just over 28,000 residents. It’s most famous resident and the reason that it is a destination for Catholics is St. Francis.
I thought I knew a bit about St. Francis, but I was surprised by the things I did not know. First of all, his name was not Francis. It was actually Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone. He was informally named Francesco, or ‘the little Frenchman’ because of his diminutive stature and his mother’s French heritage.
His family was quite wealthy and he lived a privileged life as a young man in Assisi. It was only after a brief military career and imprisonment that Francis searched for meaning in his life and turned his back on his wealthy roots.
San Damiano Crucifix
One of the profound events that Francis reportedly experienced was a message from God through the Cross of San Damiano, which hangs in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. The crucifix told him to rebuild God’s church. He took this literally, at first, repairing the local church building, but then realized it was a metaphor for rebuilding faith which was beginning to wain among the population at that period in history. Francis inspired many and this new look into his origins and history were inspirational.
We had the privilege of holding a private mass in one of the chapels in Assisi. Again, Father Bob officiated and my daughter, Lillie, and my father in law, Mike, were able to participate as altar server and lector.
Another figure we learned about in Assisi was St. Clare. She was an admirer and follower of St. Francis during his lifetime. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, a monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition, and wrote their Rule of Life, the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman. Following her death, the order she founded was renamed in her honor as the Order of Saint Clare, commonly referred to today as the Poor Clares.
Basilica of St. Clare
Of all of the places we visited in Italy, Assisi would be a place I would choose to live. The views are breathtaking. The atmosphere is one of a simple lifestyle and the history is incredible. It was a stark contrast from the frantic activity and clash of multiple styles of architecture in Rome.