EUROPE VISITA IGLESIA #1: St. Francis of Assisi Basilica in Assisi, Italy

Visiting seven churches in Europe this Holy Week

St. Francis astride his horse with head bowed after hearing the voice of God telling him to leave the war and return home.

St. Francis of Assisi Basilica in Assisi, Italy

As you approach the town of Assisi, the first thing that greets you from afar is the Basilica situated on top of a hill. It is a long beige structure lined with innumerable arches supporting it from below. There are actually two churches – the Upper Basilica and Lower Basilica built on top of each other in the early 13th century. Interestingly, their designs differ from each other with the lower one in Romanesque style and the upper one with early Gothic elements which established many characteristics of this particular kind of design.

We stopped before driving up to the town to take some selfies.
We stopped before driving up to the town to take some selfies.
The long row of arches makes it look like a fortress.
The long row of arches makes it look like a fortress.
The green and picturesque Umbrian landscape below the hill where the Basilica stands.
The green and picturesque Umbrian landscape below the hill where the Basilica stands.
The main altar of the lower church.
The main altar of the lower church.
View at night when everyone had already left.
View at night when everyone had already left.

We drove up the hill where the winding road led into the adjacent town and ended up in a multistory underground parking lot which was built to accommodate the many cars and tour buses that came daily since the Franciscan Basilica is a major pilgrimage site. The houses closely abutted the church and it was one seamless beige landscape that extended all the way through the center of the town whose ambiance and architecture felt like you were back in the Medieval Age.

Priests preparing for a short procession just before sunset.
Priests preparing for a short procession just before sunset.
You pass through this wide esplanade to get to the entrance of the Basilica.
You pass through this wide esplanade to get to the entrance of the Basilica.
Top of the multi-level parking by the entrance.
Top of the multi-level parking by the entrance.
The narrow road leading to the center of town is filled with souvenir shops and restaurants.
The narrow road leading to the center of town is filled with souvenir shops and restaurants.
A green lawn separates the church from the houses in the old town.
A green lawn separates the church from the houses in the old town.
St. Francis astride his horse with head bowed after hearing the voice of God telling him to leave the war and return home.
St. Francis astride his horse with head bowed after hearing the voice of God telling him to leave the war and return home.

Both churches had walls filled with frescoes, many by Giotto and others by lesser-known painters. What struck me was the deep blue color of the ceiling with thousands of golden stars seemingly representing the heavens.

While the upper level was tall, bright, and spacious with high arches, the lower one was the opposite with heavy barrel vaults that made up the intricately ribbed ceiling. It was forbidden to take pictures and they were quite strict about it but somehow, I was able to shoot quite a few – without a flash of course – since the guards became busy when a commotion occurred because a tourist fainted. Such luck!

Medieval atmosphere of the old town.
Medieval atmosphere of the old town.
The Basilica overlooking the countryside.
The Basilica overlooking the countryside.
The courtyard of the convent behind the church with an old well in the center.
The courtyard of the convent behind the church with an old well in the center.
The colorful murals on the ceiling of the lower basilica.
The colorful murals on the ceiling of the lower basilica.
Before leaving, I took this wide panoramic shot showing the whole town of Assisi on top of the hill.
Before leaving, I took this wide panoramic shot showing the whole town of Assisi on top of the hill.

Further below, they built a crypt where the remains of St. Francis were buried and we were able to attend Mass there (the wife insisted so) which was conducted in Latin.

All I remember was the heavy incense that wafted through the air all throughout the ceremony because my mind was wandering outside thinking about the glorious sunset shot that I just missed!

Europe Visita Iglesia Series

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Also read: Travel Guide: Caleruega Church In Nasugbu, Batangas

About the Author

Al P. Manlangit is a Filipino architect based in Kuwait who loves to travel and take photos everytime he gets the chance to do so. The genres that he explores are landscape, architecture, and street photography which come in handy wherever he goes. He blogs at designerq8.com focusing on interesting places he visited with short stories to tell behind each frame.

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