Catholic Dictionary




The city of St. Francis in central Italy. One of Christianity's most fervent centers of spirituality. A shrine within a shrine, the Porziuncula was the ancient chapel given to the Franciscans by the Benedictines and restored by St. Francis (1181-1226) himself, where he received the call from Christ and founded the Order of Friars Minor. Here St. Clare (1194-1253) received her habit and began the Order of the Poor Clares, and here in 1216 St. Francis in a vision received from the Christ the "Pardon of Assisi," which any pilgrim may gain on the conditions decreed for all plenary indulgences. In 1569 Pope St. Pius X ordered the large church to be built, of which the Porziuncula is but a shrine. It is named St. Mary of the Angels and was elevated in 1909 by St. Pius X to the rank of basilica with a papal chapel. An earthquake in 1832 destroyed the major part of the interior; only the original dome and the Porziuncula were saved. It was rebuilt in 1840. The venerable church of St. Damian, where the first Poor Clares dwelled until 1260, dates in part from the eighth century. Here are the small choir and the dormitory where the Pope visited St. Clare before her death. Above the altar in the rough stone long chapel is a copy of the crucifix from which Our Lord spoke to St. Francis, telling him to "go repair my House." The original was brought to the more recent basilica of St. Clare when the former was abandoned. Numerous Franciscan relics are in St. Clare's basilica, including her tomb in the crypt. The basilica dedicated to St. Francis towers the hill--a monumental church where in the crypt is entombed the body of "Il Poverello." The upper part of the cathedral is enhanced by the frescoes of Cimabue. The lower basilica has numerous chapels honoring various saints, with paintings by Giotto (1266-1337), Cimabue (1240-1302), and Lorenzetti (fourteenth century). In the transept is the famous painting with its gold background of Our Lady and the Divine Infant with St. Francis and St. John, the Virgin indicating by her finger that she is telling her son about the saintly friar. The habit, the hood, and the worn sandals of the saint are preserved here, his first rule, and his own handwritten script of the blessing he gave to Brother Leo.