Friday, May 21, 2010

Small Chapels, 'New' Churches and Penitential Roses

Internet was hard to find in Assisi and expensive when I did find it. (heather actually gets credit for finding the place with the computers) In Milan we were pretty busy and no internet cafĂ© presented itself so I wasn’t able to keep up daily posts. However on the plane ride home I finally have some time to type. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately depending on how much you like my writing style) it’s been 5 days since the following events happened so I’ve forgotten some of the details. Forgive me if I’m more dry and factual than previously as I’m working off notes taken in my journal. Also, I left my camera at the place we were staying in Assisi so pictures are dependent on what I can get from others.

Day 6

We began the day with mass in the Chapel at the convent guest house we were staying at. It was a small chapel with flaking frescoes and a plain brown floor. You might think this would be disappointing when not 24 hours earlier we had been in St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in Christendom, but fortunately that wasn’t the case. Rather than create disappointment it creates greater appreciation. Big churches are nice but in a small chapel you are able to have a much more intimate experience of the sacrament of the mass.

After mass we walked the couple blocks across town to the Chiesa Nuova, the New Church. Don’t let the title fool you however. This church isn’t new like the one they just built down the street from you. This one was built in the mid-1700s over the ruins of the house of St. Francis’s parents. It’s not what American’s would call new, but it’s the newest church in town.

Following a wide cobbled stone path down the hillside through acres of twisted yet stately looking olive trees is the church of San Damiano. This is the place where St. Francis had a vision of Christ telling him, “Rebuild my Church”. History Lesson: The young Francis first thought this meant to physically rebuild the church he was standing in so he ‘borrowed’ cloth from his father, an upper-class merchant and sold it to pay for building materials to restore the abandoned church. His father, being a businessman did not appreciate Francis’ efforts forced him to stop. Francis soon realized that Christ did not mean a physical reconstruction of a building but rather an ideological reconstruction of the ideals and social function of the church in his day. The life of St. Francis is his effort to follow Christ’s instruction to him.

Farther down in the floor of the valley outside Assisi (better accessed by city bus than walking) is the church of Santa Maria Degli Angeli. What is special about this church is that it has been built around a much smaller chapel that had been given to St. Francis and his followers by the local bishop when he first began forming his community.

In a garden outside this church is also the only place in the world where can be found a certain species of roses that grow without thorns. One day Francis was walking along when he (if I remember right) entertained a lustful or at least sinful thought for what he obviously thought was far too long. Seeking to do penance immediately for his sin he threw himself into some nearby brambles. His holiness was such that the brambles became thornless roses. I investigated the rose bushes closely. They are roses and there are no thorns!

Dinner consisted of meat, bread, cheese and beer bought at the local grocery store enjoyed out on the Piazza or on the steps of a the closest church. I like Italy.

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