It wasn’t so much this:
It was more of this:
We’re in Assisi, home of St. Francis. Today Courtney and I hiked up the mountain outside of town to Francis’s hermitage. Built into the side of the mountain, it’s an amazing complex of cells and chapels and doorways I could barely squeeze through. I’m guessing that Francis was a small man — most Umbrians are.
Like Mother Teresa, Francis was recognized as a very special and holy person during his own lifetime. Only two years after his death, he was canonized, and the basilica in his honor was started in Assisi. That basilica, which we also visited today, is breathtaking, with frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue, and others. In the crypt below the lower basilica, Francis is buried in a simple stone sarcophagus. Fronted by a small chapel, about a dozen pilgrims sat today in the presence of the saints tomb. Several openly wept.
There’s more myth than fact about Francis’s life. Some scholars think that he didn’t actually write the “Canticle to the Sun,” and all agree that he didn’t compose the “Prayer of St. Francis.” Nevertheless, the life — and myth — of St. Francis still moves people to tears. Nikos Kazantzankis addresses this wonderfully in the prologue to his historical novel, Saint Francis:
I first walked into Ibiz leather shop in 1989 as a college student, and I walked out with the nicest belt I’d ever owned. I walked back in yesterday, took the belt off my waist, and handed it to the daughter of the man who’d sold it to me years before. Her parents opened the shop on an alley in the ancient city in 1972. They still work there, as does she, these many years later. She cleaned my belt, punched another hole in it (alas!), and we talked about the many and various items that I’ve bought from her over the years.
It’s a bit cliché to talk about the slower pace of life in the Mediterranean countries, especially in Italy, but it’s also accurate, and apt. All is not bright in this country — they’re on their 50-something government since WWII, the government is rife with corruption and in-fighting, and the weakness of the Italian economy may be the thing that brings down the Euro.
A lot has also been made about the recent report that Italy is losing population. It’s one of the few countries in the world that is getting smaller. It won’t be able to compete in the global economy, some fear, without a higher birthrate and more, more, more.