Assisi

The little city of Assisi stands on a hill; a mediæval town of a
somewhat stern character meets the eye as we approach it. Outside the
town is a sixteenth-century church, Santa Maria degli Angeli, which will
interest by reason of the Portinucula, a little chapel repaired by St
Francis. It was around this church that the first followers of the saint
lived in hovels with wattled roofs. Here was the garden in which the
holy brother delighted to wander, and to watch his kindred the birds,
and here are the rose bushes without thorns, that grew from the saint’s
blood.

Entering Assisi, we soon reach the Church of San Francisco, in which is
the reputed tomb of St Francis. This is not a striking edifice, but its
charm is in the pictures of Giotto. Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience
are the subjects of these frescoes. Ruskin copied the Poverty, and made
a long study of these works. The picture symbolises the Lady of Poverty,
the bride of St Francis, who is given to him by Christ. This is one of
Giotto’s chief pictures. Chastity is a young woman in a castle; she is
worshipped by angels, and the walls of the fortress are surrounded by
men in armour. In another fresco St Francis is dressed in canonical
garb, attended by angels, who sing praise to him. It is said that Dante
suggested this subject to Giotto.

The frescoes of Simone, in a chapel of the lower church, are of much
interest to the art student. They are richly coloured and very
decorative, and have been considered by some authorities as equal to the
works of Giotto at Assisi. Simone was a painter of the Sienese School,
and according to Vasari, he was taught by Giotto. His “Annunciation” is
a rich work, preserved in the Uffizi Palace at Florence.

The twenty-eight scenes in the history of St Francis are in the upper
church, and in these we see again Giotto’s noblest art in the harmonious
grouping and the fluidity of his colour.

The Cathedral of San Rufino is a handsome church. Here St Francis was
baptised, and in this edifice he preached.

The father of the saint was a woollen merchant, and his shop was in the
Via Portica. The house still stands, and may be recognised by its highly
decorated portal. This was not the birthplace of St Francis, for the
Chiesa Nuova, built in 1615, covers the site of the house.

In the Church of St Clare you are shown the “remains” of Saint Clare, in
a crypt, lying in a glass case.

When Goethe was in Assisi, the building that interested him more than
any other was the Temple of Minerva, built in the time of Augustus.

“At last we reached what is properly the old town, and behold before my
eyes stood the noble edifice, the first complete memorial of antiquity
that I had ever seen…. Looking at the façade, I could not sufficiently
admire the genius-like identity of design which the architects have here
as elsewhere maintained. The order is Corinthian, the inter-columnar
spaces being somewhat above the two modules. The bases of the columns,
and the plinths seem to rest on pedestals, but it is only an
appearance.” Goethe concludes his description: “The impression which the
sight of this edifice left upon me is not to be expressed, and will
bring forth imperishable fruits.”

Sources:

  • The Project Gutenberg EBook of Old Continental Towns, by Walter M. Gallichan