PART ONE … HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Basilica Sta M degli Angeli
As the celebrant read the Gospel its words went straight to Francis’ heart. “Provide yourself with neither gold nor silver nor copper in your belts. No travelling bag, no change of shirt, no sandals, and no walking staff.” (Mt 10:7-14) Here in the words of Christ was described the road to truth that he had already travelled by experience. He immediately flung down his stick, gave away his sandals, and changed his belt for a cord. He was ready to be the Herald of his King.
At The Portiuncula Francis received Clare
It was in this primitive church that Saint Clare found Francis and his first companions that Palm Sunday night when she left her family home, and where Francis solemnly received her into the order.
PART TWO … THE PLACE WE VISIT TODAY
Interior of the Portiuncula today
Today’s pilgrim, however, wants to walk in the footsteps of St Francis and his first companions. We set off on our quest.
Statue by Della Robbia
Francis and the Lamb
At the end of this passage we come to Francis’ cell where he took his rest or spent whole nights in prayer. But the huts made of branches of trees and daubed with mud were fragile and did not last long. Evidence of more substantial buildings has been discovered under the main altar of the Basilica., and, even in Francis’ day, the friars had begun to live there. In the 14th and 15th century a hermitage of more permanent nature was built near the Portiuncula.
Many Franciscan saints lived there including St Bernadine of Siena. Today we can visit this hermitage with its cells of famous friars. When the new Basilica was built in the 16th Century over the little chapel much of the evidence of the primitive structures was lost.
Portiuncula under the dome of the Basilicas
Outside the church there is a long piazza stretching down to the main road. Many trees have been planted there to give the appearance of that woodland within which Francis came upon the little ruined church, and decided to repair it. From his momentous decision flows the esteem and love that all Franciscans have for this sacred place. We Missionary Franciscan Sisters can claim a remembrance here: when several houses were demolished to open this wooded area, we donated our little community house in the quarter.