Assisi, Italy–a town I laughed at when I was a kid because I thought it was pronounced “a sissy.” And when you’re a kid, something being called a sissy is knee-slapping hilarious. Unless it’s yourself, of course. Then it’s the earth-shattering worst and your life is over as you know it. You will never live this down!
I only knew this word because my Catholic grandparents had a statue of St. Francis is a sissy in their backyard. The guy was covered in birds, for cryin’ out loud. HILARIOUS.
Today, as a self-respecting, dignified pseudo-adult, I know it’s pronounced “Ah-see-zee” and basically everything else there is to know about St. Francis, including the fact that he has a super weird haircut. The robes I get but the ‘do? I just don’t. [Hey guys, It’s me Ashley. I have really bad news. I’m too immature for organized religion so please don’t ask me to go to church with you. You’ll regret it instantly.]
DAY TRIP TO ASSISI, ITALY
Assisi, Italy is located about halfway (the long way) between Florence and Rome in Italy’s Umbria region and makes a great day trip from either or on the way from one to the other. Where do you get the world’s most unexplainable shave & a haircut? Well right here ⇣⇣⇣
Assisi is a tiny, well preserved medieval town that has been around a long, loooong time. Like, BC time. With history influenced by Romans, Etruscans, and something called the Ostrogoths. Is this real? Did J. R. R. Tolkien write this Wikipedia page? It’s smothered in olive trees and chock-full of churches. By my estimate… I’d say one church for every three residents, no?
It’s a town known for, above all else, being the birthplace of St. Francis, founder of the Franciscan religious order in 1208. Maybe you’re familiar with his story, maybe you’ve been to one of his hospitals, maybe you thought I’ve been talking about Pope Francis this whole time, maybe you have no freaking idea who this guy is or why he’s such a sissy. That’s fine too. A day trip to Assisi is worth it regardless of who your favorite Francis is. Francis Scott Key? Sir Francis Drake? Francis Ford Coppola? Francis Crick of DNA fame? Wow, there are so many…
YOU SHOULD TAKE A DAY TRIP TO ASSISI IF…
…YOU LIKE SMALL MEDIEVAL TOWNS.
Assisi is one of the most well preserved medieval cities in Italy which you’ll understand as you walk the streets and alleys with your hair braids and your imps. I’ll let these photos straight out of Kings Landing speak for themselves.
Here stands the fortress of Rocca Maggiore, a 12th century fortress I unfortunately didn’t get to explore on my day trip to Assisi. It was built in 1174 for military defense and offers one of the best panoramic views of Umbria… or so I’ve heard.
This is the Temple of Minerva, an ancient Roman building built in the 1st century BC and attributed to the goddess Minerva. Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom and, as you can imagine, has a most horrific origin story. Please, allow me to disgust you!
The Roman god Jupiter impregnated the titaness Metis then remembered hearing a prophecy that his own child would one day overthrow him. So naturally he did only what could be done: he swallowed Metis whole. (How big is Jupiter?!) Inside Jupiter, Metis forged weapons and armor for her child-to-be. Obviously, from all the pounding and weapon-making, this gave Jupiter a headache. To relieve the pain, the Roman god Vulcan split open Jupiter’s head and out popped his child… Minerva… as a full-grown woman with some kickass weapons.
Oops, spoilers for Game of Thrones season 7.
The Temple of Minerva now houses the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. It’s small but super fancy.
…YOU ARE A RELIGIOUS PILGRIM.
Saint Francis was born here in 1182 and spent the early part of his life pretty well-off. His family was rich. He fought in wars. He wore clothes and ate food. He partied hard. He imagined things. He decided to change his ways and live as a poor person and encourage others to do the same. SOMEHOW, unexplainably, this worked. The first of many miracles. He founded his own order in 1208 and got the Pope’s approval in 1210. He gained many followers on this path to poverty where everyone shaved their head in a very weird way. Is that a skin yarmulke? Is that what’s happening here?
The Franciscan mothership: Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
Assisi has been a major Catholic pilgrimage destination for centuries with worshippers coming from all over the world just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door. Despite this, the town is not overrun with visitors as you’d think and remains a quiet, chill Umbrian town. Da lat da (Da lat da)!
This statue represents Francis returning from Rome after he has decided to give up his dream of fighting in war for going broke and convincing others it’s cool. Finally, he gets how depressing this is. Maybe he’s just upset that Jupiter, the god of the sky and thunder, king of all gods, was brought down by A MIGRAINE.
This church is not one, but two churches: the lower basilica and the upper basilica. So, I’ve seen a lot of churches during my European travels; they’re my favorite sites to visit. However, this church is my favorite. It’s the most colorful, most interesting, and coziest place I’ve ever seen. [Like the Sistine Chapel, there are no photos allowed. However, not everyone on the internet cares so check out these photos.]
Beneath the lower basilica lies the crypt where you will find the tomb of St. Francis in, again, a very unique site. Not underground, not in a box, but carved out of a stone slab in the center of the room. The tomb was discovered in 1818 with St. Francis’s skeleton fully intact.
The town of Assisi is also known for another famous resident: St. Clare.
You could say Francis and Clare were best friends (with absolutely no benefits whatsoever). She was one of Francis’s first followers and began her own monastic order for woman following his traditions and beliefs. Like peanut butter and jelly those two were. Like wine and small, tasteless wafers! Is that better?
St. Clare is the patron saint of television thanks to Pope Pius XII back in 1958. I guess now you know who to thank for all those Golden Girls reruns.
The Basilica di Santa Chiara (Basilica of St. Clare) was built in the 13th century and today houses her complete remains, some of the tunics worn by her and Francis, and her hair, cut off by Francis as a symbol of her new faith.
This has got to be the girliest of churches out there. It’s got angel wings, an enormous flower window on the facade, and, for Heaven’s sake, it’s pink! Also, St. Clare’s campanile is the tallest in Assisi. (You go girl!)
This is the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels. It’s your typical grand cathedral inside… buuut with a twist.
In the story of St. Francis, towards the beginning of his “poor” life, he saw a vision of Christ himself telling him to go fix his church that was falling apart. Francis knew juuuust what church he was talking about. He sold his horse and his clothes and worked hard to rebuild the decrepit church. He later founded the Franciscan order in that church and it’s currently the most sacred of all places for his followers. That church… is INSIDE this church. This church is huge. Francis’s church is tiny.
I talk more about the enigma of St. Francis in this post where I also push his biography and some other books on troubled Italian outcasts that are way better than me creatively. My childhood was too normal! If only more bullies had called me “a sissy” I’d be in better shape.
…YOU’VE GOT TIME TO KILL BETWEEN FLORENCE AND ROME
A day trip to Assisi is a much-needed break from the insanity of Rome and the labyrinth of Florence. You don’t need to be a religious pilgrim to appreciate the beauty and history here. You don’t have to like anybody named Francis as a matter of fact. Your idea of religion can be shouting “Jesus! Christ!” at the groundhog in your yard twenty times a day. It’s fine. You can also appreciate the Umbrian wine… the fried cheese… or the world famous Umbrian truffles. For starters.
[If you like pretty pictures that tell stories, and clearly you do if you’ve made it this far, check out my Instagram account and gimme a follow!]
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE EUROPEAN CHURCH?
LET ME KNOW BELOW!
PIN THIS ⇣
Some of the above are affiliate links and I will earn a teensy-weensy percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at no extra cost to you. All opinions are my own and I will never promote something I don’t personally use and believe in.