On the last Friday before Lent, I arrived with my peers in the small town of Santa Maria delli Angelli. We began our pilgrimage with a visit to the basilica which has as its center the Portiuncula of Saint Francis. The saint who was “saintlier than any saint,” according to Celano, used this little chapel as his refuge in the woods where he began his monastic life. Now in this Portiuncula, a special indulgence is granted to anyone who prays inside of it with the sincere wish to be cleansed of all their sins.
As I entered the church for the eleven o’clock mass, I encountered the beginning of a funeral for a Franciscan monk. Beautiful somber music played as a long line of monks processed in carefully carrying the casket of their brother. The work of Saint Francis has yet to cease. They carried the body into the Portiuncula and then into Mass. Afterwards, I watched the monks carry their deceased brother out through the main doors—the whole community of Franciscans lined the walk down the steps and in the back drop was silent swirling snow as I looked up to the mountains.
I ascended the hill to Assisi the following day and the softly falling snow continued. The delicate white flakes perfectly complimented the beautiful pink and cream stones out of which both towns were built and which exude an atmosphere of serenity and peace. The old winding streets of Assisi were lovely in the snow, and the glimpses of the landscape caught between archways or from balconies were amazing; I could see down the mountainside an arrangement of farm plots, olive groves, and small towns all beautifully picturesque with the thin veil of snow.
I visited several churches that day, including the Basilica of Saint Francis. The lower church is richly decorated with beautiful frescoes, deep blue ceilings, and intricate borders. The Chapel of Saint Francis lies directly below in the lowest level and is the home of the tomb of Saint Francis.
Other churches I visited were Santa Chiara (Saint Clare) and “The New Church” built over Saint Francis’ family home. On my last church visit, together with my peers, we had an unexpected surprise. As some of us finished looking around waited outside the church, we caught the attention of one of four Franciscan sisters who live in a tiny convent right next door; no one had even noticed the building until she came out of it. We were so fortunate as to be given the rare treat of visiting the sisters’ tiny chapel and praying with them, after which sister Mary gave us each a medal and wanted to take a picture with all of us.
After each magical day, like this one, we went back to our apartment to cook dinner and relax until it was time to say the Rosary to end the day and part ways: girls back to the convent, and boys in the apartment for bed.
It was a pilgrimage up into the mountain towns both serene and lovely.