14 August 2012

Getting Away from It All--Assisi-style

Above the hills of Assisi is a retreat place called i carceri. It means prisons. You might have guessed that by the related word incarcerated. Francis and friends used to walk up to the place, full of trees and caves. The women in this picture are following that example. That's not how most tourists get there though.

Most of them go by taxi.

That may seem strange, but it is a long walk uphill. The road is full of switch-backs and there is no bus. A taxi can get you there in good time, and if you have the money, the taxi will wait. Otherwise, you can walk down, and dodge the taxis that keep streaming up the hill.

It does seem a bit strange to take a taxi to see where the Poor Man liked to retreat. But I digress.

Lots of trees up here and lots of caves. Francis wasn't about building things, but making use of what he found. (You wouldn't guess that from Assisi where every place he ever touched has been churched over.)

Every place is holy. That's what I learned in Assisi. People come from around the world to touch the holy places, holy because Francis and Clare and their raggedy band of followers were crazy in love with Jesus. I don't know how many of them go home determined to find those places in the towns and cities where they live.

I have a suspicion that neither Francis nor Clare grew up thinking their town was anything special. Francis was eager to get away and go off on Crusade. He made it as far as Perugia, the next town over, and got thrown into prison there. He spent a year cooling his heels and returned to Assisi, determined to serve Another Lord.

People come to Assisi because it's a stop between Florence and Rome, about three hours, right around lunch time. Just enough time to check out the Basilica of St. Francis that was damaged in an earthquake back in 1997. Most people don't have the time to walk the length of the town to see the Basilica of St. Clare and see the Saint Herself laid out in a crystal coffin. (Snow White, anyone?**) And they definitely don't see the doorway that marks what would have been a stable where Francis was born. (So the story goes!) Or the post office that was a church when Giovanni di Pietro di Bernadone was baptized. They miss the Roman ampitheatre and the Temple to Minerva that exists under the church of St. Mary Major. And the bishop's courtyard where Francis stripped off his clothes and his father renounced him.

No matter.

The amount of time spent in Assisi isn't important. There's something about the place that dampens the most hardened traveler. It's just a spritz of refreshment, a taste of water that is really Living Water.

People come to jail for all sorts of reasons. Many just pass through, on their way to somewhere else. Some stay for a while, wondering how they ended up in this God-forsaken place. Some just go about their business. It's a job, covers the rent, puts food on the table. Some arrive in a police car and leave on a bus. Some leave with a loved one, or at least one who can tolerate this interruption to the schedule one more time.

But it's a holy place. A place where people become holy if they dare let God in.

**I knew you'd ask. Here's St. Clare. 



Sherry Peyton said...

Your metaphor strikes deep in the heart. Much room for thought. I should very much like to go there, and see it all. I would not miss the Roman ruins however... lol..

Philomena Ewing said...

I'm late picking up on this great story. Thanks Shannon. Yes, for me, Assisi is soaked in spirituality. The place that I loved greatly was the hermitage way out of the city perched on the hillside in a precarious position. Blessings