Of all the world's popular tourist destinations, none is more moving than Assisi, home of the simple man who is arguably history's most popular saint. One cannot help but be affected by the atmosphere in this small Italian town, which, like its patron, is surprisingly unaffected and unspoiled by its fame.
Assisi is easily reached on a day trip by train from Rome, and it's an excursion that is well worth taking no matter what your religious persuasion.
From the time you arrive at the small station, approximately an hour and a half from Rome, you'll realize you are in a special place. Just a short walk from the station at the village of Santa Maria degli Angeli is the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, which surrounds the small chapel, "Porziuncola" ("Little Portion"), where St. Francis died, and where he is reputed to have erected the first Christmas creche. You can then take a small bus from in front of the church to the hilltop upon which Assisi proper stands, and you'll begin to be taken over by the aura of this sacred place of pilgrimage.
We visited at the Church of Santa Chiara, where the Order of Franciscan nuns, known as "Poor Clares," was founded by the disciple of Francis.
Then we walked through the town, which seemed to have not changed much for hundreds of years, up to the Basilica of San Francisco, which was built in 1228 in honor of St. Francis, and where his remains are interred. Though some guidebooks chide that the huge church is too grand for the humble friar, there
is a still a hush and simplicity about it inside that is appropriate to honoring "Brother Francis."
People from around the world come here to venerate the humble saint, known for his love of animals and for his rejection of materialism. Talking to the Franciscans at the church, you're sure to find some that come from the States, maybe even from Long Island.
And by the time you're ready to board the bus back to the station, you'll somehow feel more peaceful and less stressed out by the frenetic pace of 21st century life.
Assisi is a must for anyone visiting Italy, especially during Christmas or Easter time. It is, in its quiet simplicity, a counterpoint to the "grandeur" of Rome.
For further information on visiting Assisi, you can go to the website, www.assisionline.com. Enjoy!