Approximately 90 miles north of Rome, in the rolling hills of Umbria, stands the exceptionally well-preserved medieval town of Assisi. Known primarily as the birthplace of St. Francis (1182-1226 AD), the town has been a sacred place since long before the Franciscan era. Little is known regarding the original founding of the town. One legend tells that the ancient town, called Assisium, came into existence around a holy spring that was later venerated by the Etruscans (9th – 5th centuries BC) and, following them, by the Romans. Another legend tells that the town was begun by Dardanus 865 years before the founding of Rome (April 21, 753 BC). Sometime in the 1st century BC a temple of Minerva, the Roman goddess of art, handicrafts and the professions, was constructed at the sacred spring. The temple still stands today.

St. Francis was born in Assisi in 1182 (some sources say 1181), the son of a well-to-do cloth merchant. A lively, even riotous youth who dreamed of achieving military glory, Francis abandoned his worldly ambitions at the age of 19 while a prisoner of war in Perugia. St. Francis thereafter became a mystic who experienced visions of Christ and Mary, composed the first poems in the Italian language about the beauties of nature, and in 1210 founded the famous order of mendicant friars known as the Franciscans. His repudiation of the worldliness and hypocrisy of the church, his love of nature, and his humble, unassuming character earned him an enormous following throughout Europe, posing an unprecedented challenge to the decadent Papacy.

Francis was the first known Christian to receive the stigmata, the spontaneously appearing wounds on the hands, feet and side of the body corresponding to the torments of Christ on the cross. These injuries caused Francis great pain and suffering, but he bore them with his characteristic serenity, keeping the matter secret for many years so as not to draw attention to himself and away from god.

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is Hatred, let me sow Love.
Where there is Injury, Pardon.
Where there is Doubt, Faith.
Where there is Despair, Hope.
Where there is Darkness, Light, and
Where there is Sadness, Joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much
Seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love,
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Photographs of Assisi

The peace and tranquility of Assisi is difficult to describe. There is a stillness in the air that soothes the soul. Tiny streets wind up and down the hillside town, fountains bubble and eager birds fly overhead. The atmosphere is jovial in the summer heat but also there is a sense of the sacred. Monks wearing the brown robes walk among the pilgrims and somewhere in the piazza there is a game of soccer. In spite of the droves of tourists and pilgrims that descend on this tiny corner of the world, somehow, by some miracle, Assisi retains its peace. Pace e Bene, certainly pertains to this lovely place. I was glad to return and feel its wonderful energy again.

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