Saint Francis Basilica, Assisi.

Saint Francis Basilica Assisi.

Assisi a fascinating small town propped up on the slopes of Mount Subasio, in the Umbria region. Everything insight seems to be attributed to Saint Francis owing to the fact the Saint was born and died here.

Assisi is a unique example of continuous history, as a city-sanctuary from its Umbrian-Roman origins, through the Middle Ages and up to today. Together with almost all of its surrounding territory, Assisi was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in the year 2000. The Basilica of St. Francis has been defined as an extraordinary example of an architectonic complex that has heavily influenced the development of art and architecture.

Francis cultivated a humble and poor lifestyle, which is probably why he is Italy’s most beloved saint and probably one of the most popular saints in the world. In this Umbrian city, the Basilica dedicated to his name and life preserves the remains of the “mendicant of Assisi,” thus making it the destination for tens of thousands of pilgrims each year, both believers and non-believers, all attracted by a city that became a symbol of peace. Francis died at the age of 44, and only two years later, he was canonized in an official Church ceremony in Assisi, on July 16, 1228. On that same day, Pope Gregory IX laid the first stone of the future Basilica, destined to become the “mother house” for the Franciscan Order.

Two years later the saint’s body was brought here in secret and buried in the unfinished church. The Basilica dedicated to Saint Francis is divided into two large churches on two different levels, Lower Basilica and the Upper Basilica, following the slope of the hill. This is surrounded by two large arcades visible from afar; these were built to retain the hillside during the construction of the church. But why two churches? The initial intention of those who planned it is not one-hundred percent clear. Even today, the critics have not been able to interpret the stylistic discrepancies between the Upper and Lower churches.
It is normal for the relics of a saint to be placed in a crypt, however in this case an entire church was built to hold them: The Lower Basilica. The Lower Basilica was in fact erected on the tomb of St. Francis using ancient paleo-Christian practices as a model. The lower church follows the Romanesque style with its very austere and has large cross vaults set on massive pilasters to support the weight of the upper church. The Upper Church was instead built to hold official Church liturgies: in fact, the apse contains a papal throne, meaning the Pope himself is Bishop of this church.  The Sanctuary of Assisi is one of the oldest existing Gothic churches in Italy, and its walls are decorated with frescoes by Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini, and Pietro Lorenzetti.

The present-day shape dates back to the 18th century; at this time side chapels and entrance atrium were added to the single nave Romanesque structure, windows were bricked up, a change which gives the light here a special glow.

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