Thursday, May 13, 2010


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Foligno is an ancient town of Italy in the province of Perugia in east central Umbria, on the Topino river where it leaves the Apennines and enters the wide plain of the Clitunno river system. It is located 40 km (25 mi) south-east of Perugia, 10 km (6 mi) north-north-west of Trevi and 6 km (4 mi) south of Spello. Foligno is a station on the main line from Rome to Ancona, and is the junction for Perugia; it is thus an important rail center, with repair and maintenance yards for the trains of central Italy, and was therefore subjected to severe Allied aerial bombing in World War II, responsible for its relatively modern aspect, although it retains some medieval monuments. Of its Roman past no significant trace remains, with the exception of the regular street plan of the centre. Other resources include sugar refineries and metallurgical, textile, building materials and paper and timber industries. After the war, the city’s position in the plain and again its railroad connections have led to a considerable suburban spread with the attendant problems of traffic and air pollution, as well as a severe encroachment on the Umbrian wetlands. Foligno is on an important interchange road junction in central Italy and 2 km far from the centre of the city there is the Foligno Airport

Beata Angela da Foligno
La data di nascita non si conosce (molti, non si sa perché, indicano il 1248), mentre è certo che è morta il 4 gennaio 1309.
Verso il 1291, aderì al "Terzo Ordine Francescano", ora denominato "Ordine Francescano Secolare".
La sua "conversione", nel Sacramento della Penitenza, celebrato nella Chiesa Cattedrale di San Feliciano, a Foligno, era avvenuta, come comunemente si afferma, verso il 1285, dopo una vita cristiana mediocre e anche segnata dal peccato. Angela, in quel periodo, era già sposata, aveva dei figli e viveva insieme a sua madre. Successivamente, in breve tempo, perse tutti i famigliari e cominciò il cammino di "penitenza", che la spinse a liberarsi di tutti i beni, a fare vita comune in casa sua con una certa Masazuola e a professare la Regola del Terzo Ordine.
Al termine di un pellegrinaggio comunitario ad Assisi, poco dopo l'adesione al movimento francescano, uscì in grida rivolte all'"Amore", sulla soglia della Chiesa Superiore di San Francesco: si concludeva, così, una lunghissima, mirabile esperienza mistica.
Questo evento clamoroso assisano, a cui assistettero in molti, fu all'origine del singolare colloquio, che durò quasi sei anni, con un Frate Minore, parente e confessore di Angela, del cui nome si conosce solo la lettera iniziale A.
Il "Memoriale", che riporta le confidenze della Folignate e le annotazioni di Frate A., preceduto da un "Prologo", è la prima parte di quell'opera singolare, a cui si è soliti dare il titolo "Il libro della beata Angela da Foligno".
Esso contiene anche "Documenti", che testimoniano l'esistenza di una piccola cerchia di discepoli della Poverella di Foligno: lettere, discorsi, pensieri, relazioni su esperienze mistiche successive alla chiusura del "Memoriale", la notizia della morte di Angela e un singolare "Epilogo".
Dal "Libro" si possono individuare tutte le tappe fondamentali del cammino ascetico e dell'itinerario mistico della Folignate. Le reliquie della Beata sono conservate nella Chiesa di San Francesco, retta dai Frati Minori Conventuali di Foligno.

VIDEO: CHIESA DI FOLIGNO, ITALY BY Doriana & Massimiliano Fuksas

The project was won in 2001 after a national competition organized by the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana for the construction of new churches, the jury gave the following reasons for choosing, “as a sign of innovation that meets the latest international research, becoming a symbol of rebirth for the city after the earthquake.”"


Population: 7,773 (2003)
Official website:
Wikipedia: Trevi

Maps: MapQuest

The town was originally settled by Umbrian tribal people as early as 700 BC.   By 200 BC the town was firmly under the control of the Romans.  By the first century BC its status was raised to that of a "municipium" - enabling the townspeople to claim Roman citizenship.  After the fall of Rome, possession of the town fell under the control of a succession of powers.  It was firmly within the Papal States when, in 1860, it was absorbed into the Kingdom of Italy, which became the modern state of Italy.
The town, which enjoys a spectacular view of the surrounding Umbrian countryside, sits above the flood plain of the Clitunno River on the steep lower skirts of Mount Serano.  Below the town, west toward the Via Flaminia, there is a "new town", Borgo Trevi, whose origins date only to the more or less peaceful 19th century.  It is here where one finds the usual collection of modern offices, shops, housing and light industrial plants that sit beneath most of the ancient towns in Umbria.
The town was originally ensconced in Roman walls and fortifications erected during the 1st Century BC.  Only a little of these walls remain, because in about 1264 a newer, larger circle of walls was built.  When you visit Trevi today, you will pass through the outer walls to visit the centro storico - the town center - which sits on a flat plateau and contains the major medieval buildings which are of interest to today's travelers.  Tourism and the production of a very high quality olive oil are today the mainstays of Trevi's economy.
The principal access to the old part of the town is from Piazza Garibaldi on the outside of the walls.  You can find a parking lot for your car and spend your time enjoying Trevi on foot.   Stroll down the via Roma through the vaulted "tunnel" between the Palazzo Comunale (city hall) and the adjacent campanile (bell tower) into the Piazza Mazzini.  The Palazzo Comunale was built in the 14th century, but features a Renaissance style portico.  The Palazzo Valenti, down via San Francesco, is a Renaissance flavored palace built in about 1545, that was the home of a family that held great power in the administration of the Papal States.
There are about twenty medieval churches within the comune's precincts, some within the walls, some down the slopes, and yet more on the plain toward the ancient via Flaminia. Most of them are in the Romanesque style but, many of them have been added onto, renovated and even rebuilt and so incorporate features from other periods, including the Gothic and Renaissance. 
The most noteworthy are the Duomo Sant'Emiliano, which was built in the Romanesque style in the 12th century (expanded and renovated in the 14th and 19th centuries respecively) on the main piazza, and the Gothic style Chiesa San Francesco parts of which date back to 1288 or so, but was largely built between 1354 and 1358.  This church has been de-sanctified and is now part of the town's main museum complex.  Inside there is a wonderful painted crucifix done in the fashion of Giotto, but not by Giotto.  In the nave on the left side there is a magnificent organ installed in 1509.
Look also for the Chiesa Madonna delle Lacrime, in which you will find a fresco on the Adoration of the Magi by Perugino, and the Chiesa San Martino, with paintings by Mezzastris.
The Museo San Francesco has artifacts dating back to the town's origins.  The Pinacoteca Civica has a collection of good paintings, the most prized being an altarpiece done by Lo Spagna.  There are also works by Niccolò di Liberatore, known as l‘Alunno; and Pinturicchio. There are two other museums of note: the Museo della Civiltà dell' Olivo, is devoted to olives and olive oil, a subject of immense importance to Trevi, and indeed to all of Umbria.  Those travelers who enjoy contemporary art can visit the Flash Art Museum housed in the Palazzo Lucarini, another mansion built in the Renaissance style of the 15th century.
Following via Dogali on its downward slope you will eventually come to an ogival arch in the old Roman walls, the Arco di Mastaccio.  Continuing between the medieval houses that line the street, you will come to the Porta del Cieco in the "new walls".  Going left will take you back to Piazza Garibaldi.  The drive - or preferably walk to the church and convent of San Martino takes you about 1 kilometer along the scenic Viale Ciufelli.  The complex includes a small chapel in the piazzini in front of the church, inside of which are frescoes by Lo Spagna and Tiberio d'Assisi.  Another chapel has a frescoe by Mezzastris.
There are two places below the old town, near the via Flaminia that attract travelers from far and wide. One is the ancient Roman townsite of Pietrarossa, and the other is the Springs at Clitunno.
Excavations and Pietrarossa has yielded significant finds, including ruins of Roman buildings, among them a complex of thermal baths which were apparently still in use during the time of Saint Francis, and, of course, a variety of artifacts.  The town essentially disappeared as the Romans lost their grip on the territory, and the people were forced upward the current location of Trevi.  Today, there is a small settlement on the location.
In ancient days the Springs of Clitunno and the river that flowed out of it were possessed of much more water than they are today.  Roman Emperors, like Caligula, used to boat up the Tiber to the River Clitunno then to the springs, fed by cold water from the mountains.  There was a small lake, beside which the Romans built a temple to worship and celebrate the god Jupiter.  It is, to be truthful, a little over-touristed now, but today's tourists are just following the paths laid down over the centuries by throngs of travelers, including poets from Virgil to Lord Byron.  Enter the area with the right spirit and you will still find it an enchanted and enchanting place.
Trevi is on the route between Foligno and Spoleto, the latter possessing many attractions that may make you want to give Trevi a pass.  Don't.  Try to adjust your plans so you can give each town its due.  And as always, if you have a choice, plan your visits for the shoulder seasons to avoid the dense crowds of tourists that are drawn to the area in July and August.
by Vian Andrews December 20, 2005


Spello (in Antiquity: Hispellum) is an ancient town and comune (township) of Italy, in the province of Perugia in east central Umbria, on the lower southern flank of Mt. Subasio. It is 6 km (4 mi) NNW of Foligno and 10 km (6 mi) SSE of Assisi. The old walled town lies on a regularly NW-SE sloping ridge that eventually meets the plain. From the top of the ridge, Spello commands a good view of the Umbrian plain towards Perugia; at the bottom of the ridge, the town spills out of its walls into a small modern section (or Borgo) served by the rail line from Rome to Florence via Perugia. The densely-inhabited town, built of stone, is of decidedly medieval aspect, and is enclosed in a circuit of medieval walls on Roman foundations, including three Roman Late Antique gates (Porta Consolare, Porta di Venere and the “Arch of Augustus”) and traces of three more, remains of an amphitheater, as well several medieval gates. Spello boasts about two dozen small churches, most of them medieval: the most important are: Santa Maria Maggiore (known from 1159), probably built over an ancient temple dedicated to Juno and Vesta. The façade has a Romanesque portal and a 13th century bell tower, while the pilasters next to the apse have frescoes by Perugino (1512). The most striking feature is however a very fine chapel (Cappella Bella) frescoed by Pinturicchio. The Umbrian artist was called to paint it in 1500 by Troilo Baglioni, after he had just finished the Borgia Apartment‘s decoration. The cycle include the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Dispute with the Doctors, plus four Sibyls in the vault. The Palazzo dei Canonici, annexed to the church, houses the Town’s Art Gallery.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Santa Maria degli Angeli

Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli

Santa Maria degli Angeli is a frazione of the comune of Assisi in the Province of Perugia, Umbria, central Italy. It stands at an elevation of 218 metres above sea level. At the time of the Istat census of 2001 it had 6665 inhabitants,[1] and is located c. 4 km south from Assisi. The name of the city was used by the Spanish Franciscan missionaries as the name of Los Angeles, now one of the largest cities of the United States.
It is home to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which includes the Porziuncola, the most sacred place of the Franciscan Order of the Roman Catholic Church. St. Francis of Assisi himself died here. The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels) is a church situated in the plain at the foot of the hill of Assisi, Italy, in the frazione of Santa Maria degli Angeli. The basilica was constructed between 1569 and 1679 enclosing the 9th century little church, the Porziuncola, the most sacred place for the Franciscans. It was here that the young Francis of Assisi understood his vocation and renounced the world in order to live in poverty among the poor and thus started the Franciscan movement.

The Basilica contains the tiny Porziuncola chapel, a church Francis is said to have restored by his own hands. Of course, with fame comes attention, and the exterior of the tiny chapel has been tarted up with a rather gaudy facade: marble-clad and decorated with 14th and 15th century frescoes by Andrea d‘Assisi. Also inside the Basilica: the Cappella del Transito contains the cell where St Francis died in 1226. The basilica is flanked by the Thornless Rose Garden and the Cappella del Roseto.
This little church was given around 1208 to St. Francis by the Abbot of St. Benedict of Monte Subasio, on condition of making it the mother house of his religious family. It was in bad condition, laying abandoned in a wood of oak trees. He restored it with his own hands. Porziuncola, also called Portiuncula (in Latin) or Porzioncula, is a small church in the frazione of Santa Maria degli Angeli, situated about 4 kilometers from Assisi, Umbria (central Italy). It is the place from where the Franciscan movement started. The name Porziuncola (meaning “small portion of land”) was first mentioned in a document from 1045, now in the archives of the Cathedral of San Rufino, Assisi.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Isola Maggiore

San Rufino

At one end of the main street of Assisi, Via San Francesco, is the Basilica of Saint Francis … so striking as the walled city is approached by road. At the other end of the street is the great edifice in pink and while stone dedicated to Saint Clare. It is necessary to wind your way up through the narrow streets of Assisi to find the Cathedral of San Rufino which pre-dates both the other major churches.
The present Romanesque structure with its beautiful rose window and impressive bell tower is the third Cathedral to stand on this site. The earliest was built in the 5th Century in honour of St Rufinus, a bishop of the third century who is said to have brought Christianity to Assisi. This church was replaced early 11th Century and by the present structure in the first half of the 12th Century.
San Rufino has a special place in the history of the Franciscan Order as it was the parish church of Assisi at the time when Francis (1182) and Clare (1193) were baptised at the font that is still used for baptisms there today. Bernard and some of the other early disciples of Francis would have been baptised there too.
In this church Francis began his preaching after he was given permission by Innocent III. Clare would certainly have heard Francis preach there as she attended Mass with her family. At Mass in San Rufino Clare accepted the olive branch from Bishop Guido on Palm Sunday, 11 March 1212 – the day she secretly left home to join Francis.


Franciscan Sanctuaries


Basilica Sta M degli Angeli
Basilica Sta M degli Angeli
Most travellers to Assisi alight from the train at the station called “Santa Maria degli Angeli” (St Mary of the Angels) and from there they take a bus to the hill town of Assisi. But in St Francis’ time this part was covered by a thick forest. In the centre of the wood was an ancient church, built to honour Mary, the mother of God, and belonging to the monastery of Monte Subasio. People of the time believed that angels sang to praise Mary in this little clearing of the forest. They built the tiny church there in honour of Mary and the Angels. At first the monastery cared for it and named it “Portiuncula -- The Little Portion” on account of its distance and small importance to their estates.
The Portiuncula
The Portiuncula
However in Francis’ time the monks no longer came. In fact it was deserted. Here were dangerous walls, loosened stones, broken bricks. The sky shone through holes in the roof and the ruined window. The door no longer closed. The altar, before which no one any longer prayed, was a ruin. It became the third church that Francis restored in the first days of his conversion, observing the direction he had heard from the crucifix in the church of San Damiano, “Go Francis and repair my falling house!” Nearby was a small hut that a shepherd sometimes used. Francis lived there while he was repairing the church. Then, at last, the church was fit for the celebration of mass. It was February 24th, 1209, Two years had passed since Francis had given back his clothes to his father in the presence of the bishop of Assisi. Now the young convert was about to pass to a new understanding of his vocation, and the neglected church was about to become the centre of the Franciscan movement.
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
At The Portiuncula Francis received Clare
Meanwhile Francis’ dangerous ideas were disturbing the worthy fathers of the city. They met to devise a plan to keep him quiet. Imagine their consternation when Bernado, one of the most respected and learned lawyers of the city, joined Francis at the Portiuncula. Then Silvestro, a learned canon of the cathedral, followed him. Giles decided not to pursue his dream of being a knight, and joined these first companions. Francis rejoiced that God had confirmed his way of life by sending him companions. The four set off to preach the gospel. From then on Francis always saw the little church as the cradle of his order. He returned to this church after all his journeys and summoned his friars to the little woodland clearing each year for their Chapters. He instructed them to reverence the humble little church as the beginning of their Gospel life. Every year the friars give the monks of Monte Subasio a basket of fish as their “rent” for the little church.
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.


Interior of the Portiuncula today
Interior of the Portiuncula today
There are many stories of the first days of the friars at the Portiuncula. As we enter the Basilica, built in the 16th Century to preserve the little church, we see a plan that describes what could have been the way they managed to live their new life. Each friar built himself a little hut beside the church, the centre of their worship. But our eyes are drawn to the little chapel, now adorned with frescos, that depict the legend of Mary and her retinue of angels. Going into the tiny church we rub our hands on the stones, no longer rough, but now smoothed by the hands of countless pilgrims. The altar gleams with immaculate linen, the gold of tabernacle and precious objects. Deep silence pervades the prayer of those inside.
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
Statue by Della Robbia
Near the side door we see a small plaque on the wall for Peter of Catanio, one of the first companions, who is buried there. Opposite is the chapel of the Transitus, the place where Francis died. Knowing that Sister Death was approaching he asked to be carried to the Portiuncula and laid on the earth there. It was in this little cell near the chapel that he was laid. Here his first companions gathered round him for his last testament and blessing; here he composed his last letter to Clare; here he received Lady Jacopa who had come with his favourite cakes and the cloths for his burial. When his body was being washed after death all saw the stigmata that he had borne during his last years. A beautiful statue in enamelled terracotta by Andrew Della Robbia stands behind the altar – “Love is not loved” is its title. At the side is an old door from the time of Francis and in a glass case a cord that he wore.
Francis and the Lamb
Francis and the Lamb
We walk down a passage into the area where the first little huts were. Here is a statue of Francis with two doves nesting in his arms. They recall the story when he asked a peasant going to market to give him the birds being to save their lives. In the garden we see the thorn bushes spattered with red spots – they are there to remind us of the incident when Francis rolled in the thorns to help him withstand a temptation to abandon his vocation. There is a lovely statue of Francis with a lamb in this same garden. This lamb was a gift that Francis received. The lamb used to go to prayers with the friars.
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
Portiuncula under the dome of the Basilicas
As we retrace our steps we again visit the beautiful Basilica, the parish church for this area called Santa Maria degli Angeli. Around the little church of the Portiuncula occur all the functions of an ordinary parish—baptisms, marriages, funerals. So in order to preserve the atmosphere of prayer, small chapels are set aside for Prayer of the Church, led by the Franciscan friars’ community, and for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Clearly, even though the Portiuncula is the busy focus for countless pilgrims, it remains a place of prayer. It was the location of the historic meeting of the world’s religions led by Pope John Paul II.
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.

San Damiano

EVERY PILGRIM who visits Assisi must make the short walk outside the city walls and spend time at the sanctuary of San Damiano. It is one of the most important places in the Franciscan story.
The event most often repeated about this place is the encounter between Francis and the image of Christ Crucified who spoke to him and said: “Francis, go rebuild My house; as you see, it is all being destroyed.” Thomas of Celano tells the whole story:
“With his heart already completely changed—soon his body was also to be changed—he was walking one day by the church of San Damiano, which was abandoned by everyone and almost in ruins.
Led by the Spirit he went in to pray and knelt down devoutly before the crucifix. He was shaken by unusual experiences and discovered that he was different from when he had entered.
“As soon as he had this feeling, there occurred something unheard of in previous ages: with the lips of the painting, the image of Christ crucified spoke to him. "Francis, it said, calling him by name" go rebuild my house; as you see, it is all being destroyed."
"Francis was more than a little stunned, trembling, and stuttering like a man out of his senses. He prepared himself to obey and pulled himself together to carry out the command. He felt this mysterious change in himself, but he could not describe it. So it is better for us to remain silent about it too. From that time on, compassion for the Crucified was impressed into his holy soul. And we honestly believe the wounds of the sacred Passion were impressed deep in his heart, though not yet on his flesh.”
Second Life, #10, Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Volume 2: The Founder, New City Press, p. 249

Herein begins the mystery of the cross in Francis’s life. At first he interpreted his experience in a literal manner, doing all he could to provide the means, with stones and mortar, to rebuild the physical structure of San Damiano, which actually was in ruins.
Although this may have been part of the intent of the revelation, Francis quickly realized that the rebuilding process had to include the transformation of his heart, his inner self. He would have to rebuild his inner self, and in doing so, discover his true identity. A simultaneous vocation unfolded: rebuilding the place and rebuilding his person.

Architecturally this church does not stand out like some of the others in Assisi, but it draws all members of the Franciscan family because of its unique place in the call of Francis. It was here in the original, small church, falling into ruins at the time, that Francis went seeking direction for his life. From the cross hanging there, Jesus spoke to Francis in these words: “Francis, go and repair my house which is falling into ruins”.
Today, a replica of that Crucifix, commonly called now the San Damiano Cross, is found in this church, but the original is housed in the basilica of Santa Chiara within the walled city where the Poor Clare community now resides.
St Clare in windowSt Francis in windowThe stained glass windows frequently seen in pictures promoting ecology and Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures are found beyond the portico near the entrance to church. There are frescos dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, not only in the church itself, but also in the refectory where Clare ate with her community and in the cloister.
In the photograph of the church above, above the rose window there is a door in the facade. The story is told of Clare coming to that door with the Blessed Sacrament during the attack of the Saracens upon the city and, through the grace of God, turning back the approaching destructive forces threatening the town of Assisi.
The dormitory in which Clare and the sisters slept on pallets on the floor is still able to be visited and flowers are placed daily in the corner where Clare slept. The refectory contains the heavy, wooden furniture dating from Clare’s time and some of the choir furniture is still preserved in the church. There is a deeply felt silence in this sanctuary and a sense of being present to the simplicity of life to which everything in the place bears witness.
Dormitory at San Damiano
Dormitory where Clare died
Clare lived here outside the walled city with the first Poor Clare Sisters until her death. She wrote the rule for her order here. Here at San Damiano, in a hut in the garden, Clare cared for Francis in his illness. She received the townspeople who came for help. Lives of St Clare recount stories of miracles of healing wrought here. From San Damiano Clare wrote the letters to Agnes of Prague – the letters which most clearly outline her spirituality. On her pallet here in the dormitory, just two days after she received from Innocent IV the privilege of living without property and in poverty, Clare died on 11 August 1253.
The Church is somewhat removed from the walled city but a walk down through the ancient olive trees and time spent in silence in the tiny church that has been preserved very much in its original state will long be remembered as a privilege of sharing in the graced stories of Assisi’s two remarkable saints – Francis and Clare.
Statue of St Clare at San Damiano
Ancient Olive Tree at San Damiano

Fonte Colombo

The beautiful Reiti Valley south of Assisi is surrounded by mountains, the most famous of these being Mt Terminillo which attracts tourists to skiing and winter sports. However the valley attracts Franciscans to places that were favourites of Francis and recall for us special times in his life – Fonte Colombo, La Foresta, Poggio Bustone and Greccio.
Map of Franciscan Sanctuaries
Let us go to Fonte Colombo and see its connection with Francis.
Chapel at Fonte ColomboIn the days when Frances visited this remote place there were monks living in a monastery there and a church which dates from 13th century. The monks welcomed Francis who used only a cave and a small chapel near the church on that hill-top still covered to this very day with luxuriant vegetation. Other small shrines, the Fountain of the Doves and art works added across the centuries, make this a place of special devotion and interest to Franciscans.
The cave deep in the woods houses a tiny chapel dedicated to St Michael: this is where Francis spent long periods in fasting and prayer and it was here in 1223 that he received the final rule of the Friars Minor. For this reason Fonte Colombo is referred to as the “Franciscan Sinai”.
Chapel of the Magdalen
Chapel of the Magdalen
The small chapel in the woods called “Maddelena” (dedicated to Mary Magdalen) houses a little altar where Brother Leo celebrated Mass, with St Francis participating. In the window to the left the saint himself inscribed a Tau Cross – the biblical sign of redemption which St Francis adopted as his seal.
The main church at “Fonte Colombo”, which was expanded in 15th century, houses many treasures and art works. It is of interest to lovers of St Francis for the following reasons:
  • It preserves many Franciscan memories
  • It is the place where the Franciscan Rule was written and
  • It is here that Francis underwent the cauterising of the optical nerve to arrest the disease that was leading to complete blindness.
Pilgrims who visit this sanctuary say they feel the spirit of Francis there and a strong personal call to return to the spirit of the Gospel, just as Francis did.
Artwork at Fonte Colombo
Among the many art works in the church is this painting of Our Lady with the Child Jesus
(Antoniazzo Romano’s painting school of the 15th Century)

Rivo Torto

After Francis had given away all his rich clothes and begun to wear the ragged garment given him by the Bishop, he started to repair the church of San Damiano while living in the woods and begging in Assisi for stones and mortar, as well as for his food. The poor people who had been enriched by his gifts shared their food with him. It was not long before Bernard of Quintevalle, a rich man from Assisi, recognising the real joy that Francis experienced, asked to join him. Frances loved Bernard because he was first and called him his first-born son. Peter and Sylvester soon joined them followed by Giles, Rufino and Leo. Once the little band of brothers grew Frances named them “The Little Poor Men of God”. Leo was a priest and became a constant companion of Francis and wrote down the Rule dictated by Francis and was with him on La Verna when he received the Stigmata.
As the summer waned and the nights grew cold and misty the brothers needed a place to shelter. The road passing San Damiano and leading down into the valley is a “road that Francis would have had to travel often in order to go to his father’s properties in Fontanelle and Palude” (Fortini, p 213) so he knew of a place where there was a ruined building that had once sheltered the lepers, who had moved to the hospital nearer the city. It stood beside a little stream which meandered through the woods so the place and the building were called Rivo Torto which means “Crooked Brook”.
The ruins provided space so cramped as the group grew in number, that Francis chalked marks on the ceiling to allocate spaces for each one to sleep. It was indeed a miserable place but the first brothers were happy there, leaving it each day to work at the hospital, care for the lepers and help the sick and poor in the town. On their return they shared the food they begged with all their new friends. It was from Rivo Torto that Francis set out on foot with his little group for Rome to seek the blessing of Innocent III on their way of life.
At his first meeting with Francis the Pope rejected the ideals of Francis, considering his penitential rule with its emphasis on poverty too harsh. He did not grant permission for it. However, that night the Pope had a dream in which he saw a ragged little man holding up the great basilica of the Lateran. He, recognised Francis as the little man and sent for him again. There he gave him his blessing together with permission to preach. In this time when the church was beset by heresy and complaints about mendicants the cardinals opposed his approval. To them Pope Innocent said, “This is truly the man who, with example and doctrine will uphold the Church of Christ” (2 Celano, 17).
The brothers returned home to Rivo Torto rejoicing. However, Rivo Torto was their home for only one autumn and winter for they were evicted by an irascible peasant who wanted to use it to shelter his ass!
Today little evidence of that first home of the brothers remains, but the story of their life at Rivo Torto is a precious part of our Franciscan chronicles because while there:

   1. the first true community was developed,
   2. the first primitive rule was approved and
   3. from there Francis began his life of preaching.

A great blessing came to the Order because of the eviction from Rivo Torto: the Benedictine Abbot from Mt Subasio, on becoming aware that the Little Poor Men had no place to sleep, gifted them with a tiny chapel named The Portiuncula nearby, together with the ground around it where oak trees grew. The brothers accepted the chapel gladly, built their huts around it and restored it with their own hands. So the Portiuncula and not Rivo Torto is the recognised birthplace of the Franciscan Order and that little chapel has been preserved till today under the dome of the great basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels … but that is another story.

Reference: Fortini, Arnaldo. Francis of Assisi, A translation of Nova Vita de San Francesco by Helen Moak. Crossroad NY, 1981

The church of Santa Maria of Rivotorto - Rivotorto Sanctuary

The church of Santa Maria of Rivotorto, famous as the "Sanctuary of Rivotorto", is located in the homonymous village, a few kilometres south of the city of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
The edifice, nowadays under the care of the Order of the "Frati Minori Conventuali" (Convent of the Minor Friars), was born with the aim of preserving the structures of the Sacred Tugurio, which is the place where San Francesco gathered together his followers before he obtained from the Order of the Benedictine Monks the ownership of the Porziuncola. The actual building in neo gothic style, built after the earthquake of 1854 after Christ that destroyed the church dating from the 16th century, is made of three bays one can reach through three doors. The façade is decorated with the representation of the miracle that the story says happened in theses places: San Francesco, in fact, would have appeared on a carriage of fire that was flying above Rivotorto when in reality he was in Assisi waiting for an audience of the Bishop Guido II.
Inside, in addition to the suggestive view of the Tugurio, one can admire twelve paintings dating back to the 17th century, painted by Cesare Permei, representing some moments of the life of San Francesco during the period he spent in Rivotorto.
Since 1849, the Franciscan Church of Rivo Torto  has been a Parish Church of the Diocese of Assisi. The Brothers have a presence here that is much appreciated by the population and they co-ordinate numerous pastoral activities. But that was not always the case.
The first companions of Francis relate their memories of those first months when the Brothers, although announcing peace, reaped many harassments. To these very difficult experiences of the beginning, Francis encouraged his Brothers to respond in an evangelical manner. Some concrete and moving examples are still relevant today.