Sunday, April 28, 2013


"Grant me the treasure of sublime poverty;
permit the distinctive sign of our order to be
that it does not possess anything of its
own under the sun."
~ St. Francis of Assisi

"That was it?" Bob asked after we had been in Assisi a few hours.

"Yep." I replied.

"I somehow thought there'd be more."

Let me back up a bit and start the day with the train ride to Assisi from Spoleto. We had left at 9:30 and arrived in Assisi not quite an hour later after a short bus ride from the train station. We walked a short distance up the hill to the lower church and joined the line to get in. The photo above shows the courtyard leading to the lower church, the entrance of which is under the arch.

People walked slowly into the church and crowded al around the aisles talking even though there were signs all over asking for "Silenzio" and Mass was in progress. The crowd moved to the left and swept us with them down a staircase leading to the tomb of St. Francis. We shuffled along and passed piles of tall, thin candles that we could buy and place on the altar near the tomb. The sign read, "Please do not light candles. Place them in the basket on the altar, and we will light them."

Down the long aisle we padded. Baskets full of candles were on both sides, and a young priest interrupted the flow of people to grab an armful of candles and put down an empty basket. We circled the altar (and tomb) and proceeded back up the aisle where I saw the young priest putting an armful of candles on top of the piles that were for sale.

"Did you see that?" I asked Mike.

"I don't know what you mean." He hadn't noticed the priest removing candles from the altar and placing them back in the piles at the beginning of the line.

"With all of the candles they're selling," I whispered, "how do they ever light them all?" There were hundreds of candles moving between the piles and the altar and back.

"Maybe they do it at another church or upstairs," Mike said. God bless my husband. He is not as cynical as I am.

The crowd 15 minutes later (Photo by S Normandin)

We reached the top of the steps and started to walk along the side altars of the lower church. Another young Franciscan was stilling at a desk taking money and handing out what looked to be postcards.

"You can have a Mass said," Bob whispered to me. "Ten euro."

"That's about the going rate in the States, too," I said back to him. "You can get a Perpetual Mass said for that at a monastery near Youngstown. We did it for my mom."

We made our way out of the lower church, and I noticed a glass booth off to the side of the entrance. Inside was another Franciscan priest taking Mass and prayer intentions.

We made our way outside and found ourselves in the midst of hundreds of people who had gotten off tour buses and climbed up to the basilica's courtyards.

"Holy crap!" I'm not too thrilled with crowds. "It's not even tourist season."

Steph added, "I heard more and more people were coming here since the pope took the name of St. Francis."

We walked through the main basilica and out into the ever-growing population in the courtyard.

"Shall we go further into the town?" I asked, and we got swept up the hill with hundreds of tourists heading in that direction.

"Holy crap," I muttered. "I hate crowds."

"I don't remember this many people when we were here in 2010," Mike said to me.

"There weren't." The four of us dodged people, cars (Yes, anyone can drive on the narrow streets in Assisi. The sea of people parts when a car approaches and grows together as soon as the car passes by.), and hundreds of souvenir shops. We finally found a quiet cafe and sat to have a drink and relax.

So, back to that original question. "That was it?" Bob asked after we had been in Assisi a few hours.

One of the souvenir shops (Photo by B Normandin)

"Yep." I replied.

"I somehow thought there'd be more. I can't believe the commercial aspect of this town," Bob said.

"There are so many shops selling the same stuff," Steph added.

"It's pretty disgusting, really," I said. "To think this is such a holy place and to have such commercial excess."

I honestly don't remember if it was at this point or not, but Bob said, "It reminds me of a tacky beach town with all the souvenir shops, only here they're selling religious articles."

"That," I exclaimed, "is the perfect analogy. I think that's what makes me sad."

"You wonder what St. Francis would think of all of this," Steph said. "He's probably turing over in his grave."

"He was against this very thing," Mike piped in. "It's pretty sad."

"How much does the Church get of this," I wondered.

We all just shook our heads.


Inside the lower church,  Get your mass intention here.

We ended up leaving Assisi early, fighting our way back down the hill against the stream of people heading up again. When we got to the bus stop, we found almost 50 people already waiting for transportation back to the train station. The bus arrived, and people forgot that they had just left a holy place.

"Gobbledy-gook! Gobbledy-gook!" they said as they pushed and pulled each other and stepped on others (including me. Thanks for stomping my left foot and reminding me that it is still healing from that last break.)

"Gobbledy-gook! Gobbledy-gook!"

"Gobbledy-gook! Gobbledy-gook!" The others talked and laughed and pushed inside the bus as we went around curves going back down the mountain to the stazione.

"We're okay as long as this thing doesn't tip over," Mike said.

I rolled my eyes and said an extra prayer to St. Francis.

I'm going to leave it at this. I was quite sad to see Assisi the way it is, and I think that Bob's analogy says it all perfectly.

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