Monday, April 29, 2013

City on a Hill

 In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden."  This analogy has been used by countless men and women of faith, as well as politicians who blur the lines between church and state.  Cities on hills are everywhere here in Umbria and Tuscany.  Since the Italian city states were always at war with each other the best place to be was higher than the other guy.  Assisi is a city of pink marble that can be seen for miles---as you round the bend coming from the capital of Perugia you catch sight of this beautiful gem in the crown of Umbria.  This is the northern end of Assisi, housing the exquisite basilica of San Francesco (St. Francis) the patron saint of Italy.  The basilica houses some of the most beautiful works of Giotto and his school of artisans.  
 As you go south, at the top of the hill is La Rocca Maggiore---the fortress on the top of the hill protecting the city. 
 And at the southern end, the church of Santa Chiara (St. Claire) who formed the order of the poor Claires to follow in St. Francis' work.  If you look towards the middle of the photo you will see a dome--that is San Ruffino, and I pass it on my way to school each day.  Here's my walk to school....

San Ruffino

La Rocca

Piazza San Ruffino--they are getting ready for a huge festa, the Calendimaggio, May 3-5
 I walk across the Piazza and up the hill to school.  I am eating pizza, pasta, and everything in sight, and I'm losing weight with walking up and down all these hills!

Since I am probably walking in places where St. Francis walked, I often wonder what he would have thought of the ornate basilica that honors him, and the Disney-esque quality of the streets and shops that sell everything with his image on it.  From what I've read about him, I think he'd be pretty annoyed at the commercialism and the elaborate memorial that has been constructed.  On the other hand, the artisans who helped to build the basilica worked to honor him and God with their skills, and in some way, I would hope he would have approved.  Still, the simple friar would probably have preferred not to have any memorial at all, just to have his work continue through his followers.  Yet, his words have lived on all these years.
This is the basilica in Santa Maria degli Angeli the town at the bottom of the hill.  Tradition has it that St. Francis died here.  It's a small town, but also has that Disney-esque quality with street vendors selling everything with images of St. Francis and St. Claire.

St. Francis wandered the hills behind Assisi on Mt. Subasio (the sacred mountain).  You can feel the serenity here, and a sense of peace.  Assisi is called the city of peace, and although during the day you feel as if you are in a mosh pit sometimes, at night, it is all yours--the tour buses leave and the city is once again as it was in St. Francis' time. I find myself thinking about St. Francis and St. Claire often, as I wander the streets.  Could they have known that their work would be continued all these years later and that a pope would choose the name Francis to honor him and his work with the poor.  Interesting how we never really know what we will leave behind for others.  Tonight I leave you with the prayer of St. Francis, you don't have to be religious, or a believer to get it, it's just simply truth.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Wishing you a buona notte from Spello. 

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