June 1st, 2010 — from the Rome Experience journal of Jeffrey Gardner
Day Ten started with morning mental prayer in the house chapel at the Monastery di S. Antonio in Norcia, followed by breakfast that consisted of coffee, rolls/bread, jams, juices and the world’s best honey.
All Rome Experience days were special, but this was a bit more so because we were going to Assisi, Italy — St. Francis’ home town! The ride through the Italian mountain country was breathtaking! The roads are wide and comfortable – no real danger of going off the road – but in many places, the mountain ascends sharply on one side of the road, while descending quickly to a beautiful mountain stream on the other side. Interestingly, we drove through one mountain tunnel that was 4000 meters long, or approximately 3 miles.
Once we got on the highway, the landscape opened up, and we could see beautiful mountains, lush green valleys and cities built along cliffs. The first stop was the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Our Lady of the Angels) that rests in the valley below the sparkling city of Assisi. The basilica is quite beautiful on its own, but the real beauty of is that it houses the little church in which St Francis died — the Porziuncola Chapel. The basilica is so big that it comfortably houses the chapel, which is about the size of a one-room schoolhouse. I think these two are the most beautiful of all the churches, other than St Peter’s, that I have seen in Italy.
After the stop at Our Lady of the Angels, we rode the bus the short distance to Assisi and immediately went into the Basilica of St Francis. You feel the real presence of St Francis in the basilica — even more so as you roam around Assisi! As you walk these narrow, brick-lined streets you get a sense of what the saint saw and how he lived. You can pray in churches where he prayed, eat lunch in the public meeting area called the Piazza Commune where Francis and his followers met, and tour Francis’ house and the room in which he was born. Assisi is a must for any Catholic visiting Italy.