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Lavender, Linen and St. Francis

My first trip to Assisi was made only because of St. Francis of Assisi. I loved his prayer. It was my morning meditation, and because of that, I wanted to see his rural hometown and the Basilica built to honor him.

Fortunately, I had already experienced Assisi twice when I found out that the Prayer of St. Francis may not have been written by him. It was a little like hearing the reality of Santa Claus, but because I had visited Assisi, it didn’t matter much. Just as the spirit of Christmas remains, the spirit of St. Francis permeates his hometown.

The story of St. Francis is one of a young soldier, lost in the ways of the world for much of his life, when he has a vision to serve God. Giving up all of his material possessions, he serves with such gentleness and kindness, that people are transformed merely by his presence, and animals drawn to him, unafraid.

While I didn’t equate my donating 37 pairs of designer shoes to be on par with St. Francis, I had learned a thing or two about living more simply in the past year. Having sold my home and 90% of my material possessions in order to move to Italy, I, too, was traveling much lighter these days.

I also had come to understand that the only way to embrace my new life, was to open my heart to a culture and a people very different from my own. And the key to all of it seemed to rest in kindness.

“Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love.”

The Bascilica St. FrancesBasilica di San Francesco stands high on a hill, called “Hill of Paradise”, and can be seen from a great distance. Inside the church, the walls were frescoed from top to bottom by the leading artists of the day. Giotto, Cimabue, Simone Martini and Lorenzetti all helped create a most exquisite monument to the gentle saint from Assisi.

The church is in three sections consisting of the saint’s tomb, the lower basilica and the upper basilica. Nancy and I milled around the outside for a few minutes, looking for a place to pay. Finally, we asked a priest and were informed that it was free to enter.

Free?

First entering the lower basilica, my eyes took a moment to adjust. It’s dark, and the skilled artists knew their paintings would be seen in this way. The nave is frescoed with parallel scenes from the life of Christ and the life of St. Francis, all under a brilliant ceiling of stars.

As I walked to the upper basilica, light was radiating through the windows and the painting from floor to ceiling almost looked like wallpaper to me. As I stood by the podium and gazed up, towards the rose colored stained glass, I gasped a little. It was simply stunning!

There is an energy of peace and love within the walls of the Basilica that reflects St. Francis, and also the many people who have traveled there to honor this humble man. I sat down on a bench to take it all in, breathe deeply and pray.

“Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, only light”.

The feeling in the Basilica seems to spill over into the small town of Assisi. It was a welcome relief from the bustle and crowds of Florence. Nancy and I wandered through the cobbled streets and checked out the restaurants, churches and shops.

I stopped, drawn in to look at lavender sachets shaped like Franciscan monks. Upon entering the store, I found that the entire shop was devoted to all things lavender. Soaps, sachets and body lotions all created in the heavenly scent.

As we walked the narrow and winding streets, we came across many shops selling Umbrian linen. Scarves, shirts, table linens and towels all of marvelous fabric, made this traditional gift easy to purchase. Nancy and I both bought a couple of scarves for Spring. (Hey, even traveling lightly, a girl still has needs!)

Our stroll continued through a chocolate shop with an alcove garden, a trattoria for lunch and several art galleries. But nothing caught our eye quite like the paintings of Vincenzo Martini!

The Artist VincenzoAfter many months of viewing the somber, religious art work of the Renaissance, the whimsical paintings of Vincenzo’s stopped us in our tracks. Drawn into the gallery, we each began to smile and wander amongst the art depicting Franciscan monks in their typical clothing. What was not typical, was the monk’s activities of riding motorcycles and walking tightropes! We even found a few playing a game of pool…

Set in a backdrop of familiar buildings in Assisi and Florence, Vincenzo had his subjects involved, delightfully, in the unexpected. Just as unexpected for us, he appeared as we came to the back of the gallery.

“Why, it’s you!” I heard Nancy say.

And there he was, painting away while we watched. Every bit as charming as his artwork, was the artist himself. He laughed as we continued to change our minds as to which of his pieces was our favorite.

“Where there is sadness, let me bring joy”.

Lavender BikeMy entire reason for coming to Italy was to find joy and give joy. Assisi seemed to know all about that. It gave my soul the knowledge that joy, peace, tranquility and simplicity were still available in unlimited supply. Whether in sacred sanctuaries or an artist in his gallery, the world was filled with people who smiled.

And then I came across a quote which is directly from the writings of St. Francis:

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”

Life Lesson from Assisi:
If you believe in joy, serendipity and whimsy, then live it….let every part of your life reflect it.

If Assisi is calling to your soul, come join Sarah & Lisa in Tuscany! We offer unique, luxury tours for women. Come on over to A Better Way to Italy and book your trip today!

This article is part of a series by Lisa Condie. The next article in the series can be found here: Coming or Going?

The first article in this series can be found here: The Decision.

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