The small town of Assisi near Perugia in Umbria is all about its most famous son around October 4th. Francis of Assisi is one of the most important saints of the Roman Catholic Church, serves as Italy’s patron saint, and, among other things, inspired the papal name choice of Pope Francis, the current pope. Special multi-day festivities commemorate the life and acts of Francis, who used to live in poverty and ended up revitalising the church. Find out here what the Festa di San Francesco d’Assisi is all about and why you absolutely have to be there at least once in your lifetime.
From the life of a saint
Born in Assisi around 1181/82, Francis of Assisi – baptised as Giovanni before his father took to calling him Francesco (Eng. “small Frenchman”) – was rather well-educated for a man of his status. He abandoned his dream of becoming a knight when God appeared to him in a dream. Following that, Francis oriented his life to that of Jesus Christ and lived his days in complete poverty. More and more people followed him. The small community grew steadily laying the foundation for several Franciscan Orders. Francis explored the country as an itinerant preacher and lived in awe of the beauty of earthly life. According to legend, he even tamed a wolf. It should come as no surprised that he is the patron saint of animals, nature and the environment. Francis of Assisi was already canonised two years after his death on 3 October 1226 in his chapel Portiuncula despite his spartan lifestyle being in stark contrast to the then wealth of the church. His role remained heavily controversial among church representatives for decades, even centuries.
Multi-day festivities with dignitaries
Ever since he was named Italy’s patron saint by Pope Pius XII in 1939, the time between 3rd and 5th October is all about the saint. Assisi is buzzing to make this touching feast a truly memorable one. Visited by political and clerical prominence, every year sees a different Italian region providing the oil for the votive lamp, which shines brightly all year in the patron saint’s tomb. It’s Liguria’s turn in 2017, accompanied by regional leaders and select pilgrims.
Light procession on October 3rd
The festivities begin on October 3rd, the anniversary of the saint’s death and the feast day of several Protestant Church. Starting in the early morning, flowers and lights are arranged throughout the entire town, even in the surrounding hinterland. A big procession moves to the Portiuncula, where the lamp oil is handed over in a ceremonial manner. It’s already dark outside after the first remembrance service. Candlelight lightens the streets of Assisi. If you’ve got some time on your hands, you must take a trip to the nearby Monte Subasio. The view of the town’s peaceful, beautiful sea of lights during sundown is truly something to behold.
Big ceremonial act on the feast day
The Catholic Church remembers Francis of Assisi on October 4th, which is also the day of the big ceremonial act in the Central-Italian town. Assisi’s inhabitants celebrate together with the pilgrims of the oil-providing region. They all wear traditional costumes and stroll through the roads, frequently accompanied by singing and spontaneous dancing. While the parade is a lively and colourful affair, the quiet services are a stark contrast with the joint visit of the lower church of the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi being the religious highlight. After the blessing of Italy and the entire world, olive branches are given to all political dignitaries and the believers. They supposedly protect your home from evil and are stored like a relic. If you have some additional time at hand, you must stay until the next day. October 5th sees the area inside the town walls turn into a massive marketplace. Look forward to regional culinary delights, such as various cheeses, meat, honey and olives, and impressive handicrafts. The hustle and bustle will certainly have you work up an appetite – one of the many cafés is already waiting for you!
The Festa di San Francesco d’Assisi is among Italy’s most important religious feasts wowing with its certainly unique combination of worldly charm and quiet, Catholic devotions you won’t find anywhere else. You’d like to be there in October? Best book your accommodation as early as possible, as there are usually no vacancies left in and around Assisi. You can also find many more travel suggestions for all of Italy on ZAINOO.