Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Northampton in Assisi

After plundering Rome, the Cathedral group marched up to Assisi (by coach). They invited me to join them. I took a day off from study on Friday and made the trip north to St Francis' home town. I had qualms whether I should take time from my studies but as one priest said here at the Casa, "It's always a good thing to spend time with St Francis in Assisi." He was right.

I spent the night there and joined the group for various activities. They were staying at La Rocca Hotel - known to generations of English College students for its hospitality, good pasta and reasonable rates and rooms.

I managed to offer Mass at the Basilica of St Francis in the evening. It's an impressive place: right down in the crypt is the tomb of St Francis. This was only discovered in 1818 after about two month of excavations: the grave had been most carefully hidden to escape being stolen or desecrated. On top of this is built two other churches, one on top of the other and it is this vast complex that forms the Basilica. It was built after Francis' death in 1226. By this time the Franciscans had already arrived in England (in 1224, in fact). One of their number was a priest, Richard of Kingsthorpe, a well-known and impressive preacher. Obviously because of his links (Kingsthorpe is now on the north side of Northampton), by 1230 a friary had been established in the town and it was at the Franciscan St Andrew's church there that Blessed Duns Scotus was ordained to the priesthood on 17th March 1291.

The present Basilica is the fruit of great medieval Italian architecture - its frescoes, particularly those by Giotto in the upper Basilica depicting the life of St Francis, are wonderful. I think my favourite place is the quiet crypt of San Francesco's tomb and the rest of the lower church - dark, colourful, tranquil.

The tranquility soon vanished - that night the pilgrim group held a quiz night, which was loud and fun. But the beauty of Assisi had obviously touched everyone in the group. Many people said how peaceful and graced they felt the town to be. Its beauty stays with you for a long time.

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