Saturday, January 4, 2014

Assisi at Christmas

One of the lovely things about having guests is playing tour guide, which means I need to do a little research myself, and when I do, I discover new things.  Adelle's friend John has never been to Italy before, so we are showing him all of the sites of our province hoping he will fall in love and return many times.

We decided to take him to Assisi, a town that is only about 30 minutes from us.  We had been there many times, but on this visit to Assisi, I decided to look up Rick Steves and see what he recommended.  He had a walking tour which I downloaded, printed and we followed.  It came with a map and was easy to follow, and he had very interesting comments along the way. Here is the link if you are ever in Assisi and would like to follow along.

A few comments about the history of St. Francis and Assisi before we begin the tour.  The town of Assisi has a population of about 24,000 people.  Its sister city is San Francesco, California. The history goes back to 1,000 BC and was inhabited by the Umbrians, Etruscans and the Romans. Without a scorecard, the back and forth fighting of these Umbrian communities is very hard to follow.  In modern times, Assisi is mainly known for the birth of St. Frances and for people who make religious pilgrimages to the site.  In the summer bus loads of tourists arrive and it is difficult to feel the spirituality of the place.  In the winter, it is much more serene and pleasant, in my mind, to visit. One can almost imagine St. Francis walking in the green hills that surround the town.

Now as to St Francis. He was born Giovanni di Bernardone in the winter of 1181.  His father called him "Francesco" the Frenchman for reasons that are still debated. One of the things that struck me this time, is the similarity in the life history of St. Francis and the Buddha. Both were born into families of wealth and privilege. As young men, they lived a hedonistic life style.  Both had an awakening, after years of isolation and prayer.  Both men have had a historic impact on people way past their life time.  They both taught by example rather than admonition. Interesting comparisons.

In the town of Greccio, between Terni and Rieiti, St Francis was the first person to use the nativity scene as a way to teach the story of the birth of Christ. This year I have become very interested in the "presepio" or nativity scenes.  They are an art form here and seemingly the principle way to celebrate Christmas. Most of them are so sweet, and detailed.  It is hard to imagine.

On the walk into Assisi, I saw a sign that said "Presepio" so of course we had to walk down the small alley way and view the nativity scene.  The sweetest man was there, by himself.  He was so proud of the town that he had recreated.  The Stoic One asked for his email so he could send hims picture, but he doesn't have an email account, cell phone, web site, etc. He said he started it 5 years ago as a project in his house, and he adds to it every year.  Needless to say, his wife was unamused and so he found this tavern to house his creation.  It is the Upper part of Assisi.  The photo really doesn't do it justice.

This was in one of the churches.

This was in a store window that sold carvings of olive wood.  So beautiful.

We walked into town following Rick Steves' map.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Susan,

    It is so much fun to read about something that I experienced while in Italy and to see that others are as interested as I was. The last one you show from the olive wood, I actually purchased as a very tiny fridge magnet. They are so beautiful. Also, I wanted to ask you if you have ever read the books by Marlena Di Blasi?