September 8th - 15th
with Monika Penukonda & Ramakrishna
Eremo delle Carceri (Carceri Hermitage)
In the caves on the slope of Monte Subasio just outside the walls of Assisi, St. Francis (1181-1226) and his followers established their first home at the Eremo delle Carceri (Carceri Hermitage). He often returned here during his life to pray and contemplate. The word Carceri is from the Latin carceres and means "isolated places" (as well as "prisons").
History of Eremo delle Carceri
St. Francis first began coming to this beautiful place in the forest in 1205. At the time, the only building here was a tiny 12th-century oratory. Francis lived alone in a cave, where he prayed fervently and did penance. Soon other men followed him to the mountain, finding their own isolated caves nearby in which to pray.
When the friars gathered together for communal prayer, they would use the existing oratory, which became known as Santa Maria delle Carceri after the small "prisons" occupied by friars in the area.
The site and the oratory was probably given by the Benedictines to St. Francis in 1215, at the same time they gave him the Porziuncola in the valley below. Francis dedicated himself to a life of preaching and missions, but throughout his life he would frequently withdraw to the Carceri to pray.
In the centuries that followed, various buildings were added around St. Francis' cave and the original oratory, forming the sizeable complex that exists today. Today, the hermitage is still occupied by Franciscan friars.
What to See at Eremo delle Carceri
The peacefully isolated church and monastery on the densely wooded slopes retain the tranquil, contemplative air loved by St. Francis.
The self-guided tour through the site (with resident friars usually available to provide guided tours) is a wonderfully convoluted circuit that involves ducking through tiny medieval doorways and squeezing down narrow stone stairways.
An entrance gate and short tunnel leads into an open courtyard with magnificent views and a well that is said to have yielded water after a prayer of St. Francis. A round door marked Santuario at the end of the courtyard leads into a small 15th-century oratory built by St. Bernardine of Siena.
St. Bernardine also built a small friary, which includes a little choir with wood stalls of c.1400 and a simple refectory with the original tables from c.1400. These two interesting areas can only be visited if accompanied by a friar of the community.
After Bernardine's oratory, visitors pass the older (12th-century) and more rustic Cappella della Madonna, with an altarpiece fresco of the Virgin and Child. From here, a short but narrow stairway leads down to the Grotto of St. Francis, where the saint prayed and slept on a stone bed while on retreat toward the end of his life.
Squeezing through another doorway and rounding a corner, visitors emerge into a small porch. Just outside the door, look down for a quatrefoil-shaped hole in the smooth pink stone. This is the "Devil Hole," which looks into the not-very-deep crevasse into which St. Francis is said to have tossed a troublesome demon who tempted Brother Rufino. Many visitors throw coins into the hole.
The porch opens onto a walkway along the top of the buttressing wall that supports the convent. At the end of the walkway, look for a tree braced by iron crutches on the right - this is said to be the tree of St. Francis' birds.
From here, one can either turn left up some steep stairs to head towards the exit and the grottoes of St. Francis' followers, or continue right on a wide trail that leads to a peaceful wooded area with an outdoor chapel and occasional benches.
Just after turning right, there are some charming modern bronze statues of St. Francis and his followers. Francis lies on the ground, his hands behind his head and his sandals off, gazing at the sky, while two friars look hard at the constellations and record them on the ground.
A modern chapel near the entrance is set aside for prayer and quiet reflection.
The hermitage also makes a good starting point for longer walks in the woods. Monte Subasio is a protected regional park, and there are plenty of marked trails to follow. Maps are available in town.
San Damiano Convent
The church and convent of San Damiano is where it all began in Assisi. As the place where St. Francis first received his miraculous calling in 1205 and where St. Clare died in 1253, it is an important stop on the pilgrimage to the Franciscan holy city. The simple oratory is located in a beautiful setting just outside the walls of Assisi.
History of San Damiano Convent
The originally hosted a small Benedictine priory, documented since 1030. In 1205, in its dilapidated old oratory, a young and restless Francesco was praying before a 12th-century painted crucifix. Suddenly, the Christ on the crucifix came to life and spoke to Francis, saying, "Rebuild my church."
Francis took the command literally at first, reconstructing the little church with his own hands. The church later became a favorite retreat for Francis and his followers and it was here that he wrote the first draft of his celebrated Canticle of the Creatures.
St. Clare, follower and close friend of Francis, founded her Order of the Poor Clares here at San Damiano in 1212. She lived here most of her life as its abbess and passed away in an upstairs room on August 11, 1253. Her body was transferred a few years later to the Basilica di Santa Chiara, constructed in her honor.
What to See at San Damiano Convent
Located in the beautiful Umbrian countryside just outside Assisi, San Damiano is a simple and peaceful place - a nice change from the large and crowded memorials to St. Francis in town.
The old dormitory is a large empty room with a view over the cloisters; the spot in which Clare died is lovingly marked. The little Choir of the Poor Clares contains wooden choir stalls from the time of St. Clare (13th century) and a Crucifixion fresco by Pier Antonio Mezzastris (1482). The refectory retains its old tables and benches, as well as frescoes by Dono Doni.
Basilica di San Francesco
The grandiose, gorgeously embellished Basilica di San Francesco (Basilica of St. Francis) in Assisi is a rather incongruous memorial to a man who preached and lived a simple life of poverty, abstinence, and renunciation of worldly goods in search of greater spirituality.
But the bi-level basilica is one of the world's focal points of both high art and intense spirituality. Still a major place of pilgrimage, the Basilica of St. Francis is a powerful place for believers and art-lovers alike
In the center of the crypt, rising like a thick tower to the High Altar above, is the venerated stone tomb of St. Francis. The remains of the saint were found fully intact when rediscovered in 1818, thanks to the rather extreme protection measures taken in 1230. Facing the tomb are the graves of four disciples of Francis - Fra Leone, Fra Masseo, Fra Rufino and Fra Angelo - who had previously been buried in the lower church.
Santa Maria degli Angeli
Santa Maria degli Angeli (Church of St. Mary of the Angels) in Assisi is much venerated as the place of St. Francis' death. Inside the grand Baroque basilica are two small, humble structures: the Capella del Transito and the Porziuncola
History of Santa Maria degli Angeli
The Porziuncola is a chapel obtained from the Benedictines and restored by St. Francis himself. In it he founded the order of Friars Minor that would later be known as the Franciscans. It was also here that St. Clare embarked on her monastic life on March 28, 1211.
And, in 1216, Francis had a vision in the little chapel in which he was granted the "Pardon of Assisi." As he prayed, a light filled the chapel and he saw above the altar Christ, the Virgin Mary and a company of angels. They asked him what he wanted for the salvation of souls, and Francis replied:
Francis asked God to grant a plenary indulgence — the remission of the temporal punishment of all their sins — to all pilgrims who visited the church.
The request was granted based on Francis' worthiness, and the indulgence was officially approved by Pope Honorius III.
Nearby, in the humble cell now known as the Cappella del Transito, St. Francis died October 3, 1226.
The number of pilgrims to the Porziuncola and Transito were so numerous - estimated at 100,000 in 1582 - that it became necessary to have new structures to welcome them. Therefore, a great Baroque church was built around the humble chapels by Pope Pio V beginning in 1569.
In 1930, the statue of the "Madonna degli Angeli" (Madonna of the Angels) was added by the sculptor Colasanti to the top of the façade.
What to See at Santa Maria degli Angeli
Santa Maria degli Angeli is one of the largest sanctuaries of the Christian world, measuring 126 meters long, 65 meters wide and 75 meters high at the level of the 1680 cupola. Standing directly under the basilica's large dome, the Porziuncola ("little portion") is the original stone chapel restored and frequently used by St. Francis. Dating from the 9th century, the long-abandoned chapel was given to Francis by the Benedictines and became the early headquarters of the new Franciscan order, founded here in 1209.
The chapel is decorated with frescoes with a variety of dates. Over the entrance is a fresco by German artist Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1829) depicting the "Pardon of Assisi," an indulgence obtained by St. Francis through a vision here in 1216.
Inside, the eye is immediately drawn to the colorful fresco on the back wall, known as the Altar Screen of Prete Ilario da Viterbo (1393). It tells the story of the Pardon of Assisi in five scenes: 1) Francis throws himself into thorns to overcome temptation; 2) Francis is accompanied by two angels while going to the Porziuncola; 3) inside the Porziuncola, he contemplates the apparition of Jesus and the Virgin and asks for the plenary indulgence; 4) he receives confirmation of it from Pope Honorius III; and 5) he declares to all the great gift received from Christ.
The Cappella del Transito is the small room in which St. Francis died on October 3, 1226. It is a simple hut that served as an infirmary for the sick in the community. He asked to be brought here when he felt himself near death.
Above the small altar in a glass case is the rope belt of St. Francis.
Outside the basilica is the Rose Garden, all that remains of the forest where Francis and the other friars lived. As depicted in the Porziuncola fresco, tradition has it that Francis rolled naked in thorns here to combat doubt and temptation. Another early tradition says that on contact with the saint's body, the thornbushes turned into roses without thorns. This is the origin of the Rosa Canina Assisiensis, which flowers only at the Porziuncola.
The Chapel of the Roses was built by St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio around 1260 and extended to its present size by St. Bernardine of Siena around 1440. It is known also as "St. Francis' Cell," as it occupies the original site of his hut.
The Courtyard of the Roses was constructed in 1882. It contains a bronze monument by Vincenzo Rossignoli (1916), which depicts Francis accepting the gift of a lamb because of its innocence and simplicity.
Housed in a 15th-century friary that predates the basilica, the Porziuncola Museum was founded by the friars in 1924. It displays a fine range of art, including paintings from the 13th century and reliquaries from the 14th century.
Basilica di Santa Chiara
Born to a count and countess in Assisi in 1193, Chiara (Clareto English-speakers) was a friend of Francesco (Francis) and followed his example against her parents' wishes. At the age of 18 (1211), she left her stately home and ran off to meet Francis. Francis clothed Clare in sackcloth and cut off her hair, signaling her renunciation of the world. She took the veil of the religious life from Francis at the Church of Our Lady of the Angels in Assisi.
Clare pursued her new path unwaveringly, adopting the rule of St. Benedict tempered with Francis's preaching of poverty. She soon gathered a large female following at San Damiano and Francis urged her to set up a convent there. She did so, and became abbess of the new community known as the Poor Clares. Clare's mother and sisters later joined the order, and there are still thousands of members today.
Like Francis, Clare was known for her many miracles. Among her most famous feats is using a consecrated Host (communion wafer) to ward off invaders ranging from the Saracens (1240) to the local trouble-maker Vitale d'Aversa (1241).
Bed-ridden on Christmas Eve 1252, Clare was upset that her illness was keeping her from Mass in the new Basilica of St. Francis in town. Suddenly, she was blessed with a vision of the Mass, both hearing and seeing it miraculously from several miles away. This led a modern pope to pronounce her the patron saint of television in 1958. She is also patron of sore eyes.
Clare died in Assisi on August 11, 1253. Like Francis, she was canonized quickly - on September 26, 1255, by Pope Alexander IV. The church of Santa Chiara was built in 1257-65, in the early Gothic style, to house her tomb.
What to See at Basilica di Santa Chiara
The Basilica of St. Clare is fronted by a terrace-like piazza with views over the valley and some shade trees. The church is early Gothic, but still has some Romanesque characteristics, such as round arches and an austere facade.
Adjoining the nave to the south is the Oratorio del Crocifisso(Oratory of the Crucifix), a peaceful chapel that preserves the venerated 12th-century crucifix that spoke to St. Francis at San Damiano.
Beneath the church is the spacious Neo-Gothic crypt containing the tomb of St. Clare. The saint's preserved body is on display at the east end of the crypt, her face protected by a layer of wax. A narrow ambulatory funnels pilgrims past the shrine.
At the west end of the crypt, displayed behind a modern grille, are some important Franciscan relics, including humble tunics worn by Francis and Clare, a shirt Clare embroidered, and some locks of Clare's hair cut by St. Francis.
La Verna (day trip)
The Mount of La Verna was donated to St. Francis in 1213 by Count Orlando Cattani of Chiusi of La Verna. The count described the mount as a perfect and ideal place for contemplation amidst nature.
An hermitage was founded on the mount and became the favorite site for Francis and his followerss for spending long periods of meditation and prayer. Francis' last stay at La Verna was in 1224 when he was already tired and ill. During this time, while he was absorbed in praying, he had a vision and received the stigmata that he carried until his death two years later.
Sacred Woods of Monteluco
The timeless importance of the woods is proven by its very name (lucus = sacred wood) and the ancient and strict laws of Lex Spoletina: the first example of forest management, if you will, was carved in stone in archaic Latin in the III century B.C.E. and established punishments for anyone desecrating the sacred woods then dedicated to Jove.
The Scared Wood of Monteluco is full of evergreen oaks, a rarity in areas so far from lakes or the seashore, and provide an ideal habitat for coleoptera beetles, for green woodpeckers, great spotted woodpeckers, creepers and the nuthatches.
There are plenty of hermitages and caves, including the one of Saint Anthony of Padua, that are easy to reach on foot over trails that wind through the woods behind the Sanctuary of Saint Francis (or the Franciscan Hermitage).
As you climb up Monteluco you'll find the church of Saint Peter, built in the early V century over an ancient villa, a fine example of Umbrian Romanesque architecture, and the Romanesque church of Saint Julian, which was constructed in the XII century to replace a VI-century building and then renamed after the saint. Further up is the Sanctuary of Monteluco, a Franciscan settlement they say Saint Francis himself founded in a place donated to him by the Benedictines along with a small church they had dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria.
French occupation brought the congregation of friars and monks to an end and, in the early 1800s, the hermitages themselves were sold to private individuals who transformed them into summer vacation homes.
The importance of the Sacred Woods of Monteluco was recently confirmed when it was selected as an EEC Site of Community Importance.
September 8th to 15th, 2018
+ 4 Star hotel with breakfast included
+ Daily lunches
+ All transportation while in Italy
Pricing: $2650 per person
* Registration is Double Occupancy
* Triple occupancy rooms are available for $200 less
$750 deposit to hold your spot
$950 due by June 07, 2018
$950 due by August 07, 2018
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