Art of Assisi

Immediately following the canonization of St. Francis in 1228, the construction of a church was begun in his honor in his hometown of Assisi. The entire complex, known as the Basilica di San Francesco, contains an upper and a lower church, as well as the crypt of St. Francis.

Upon entering the lower church, the visitor is inundated with an overwhelming collection of frescoes adorning any and every surface. On either side of the main part of the church are scenes from the life of St. Francis mirroring the life of our Lord: when Jesus is stripped of his garments in the moments leading up to his crucifixion, St. Francis is stripping off his clothes, denouncing his father.

The numerous frescoes were painted by a variety of artists: Giotto and Cimabue are the most famous names, but many more artists contributed as well. The more I looked around, the more details that popped out at me. One of the “filler” paintings (my own name for the strips of space that someone just filled in with a pattern between actual scenes or saint portraits) was filled with feathers, recalling the preaching of St. Francis to the birds. In another spot, there were some blue squares where normally a saint would be painted. Perhaps the reason for the blank canvas is due to the ongoing restoration following the 1997 earthquake that struck Assisi, but I like to think that the spots are beckoning us to be saints, and to live lives to fill the blue square.

Cimabue’s “Maesta,” with St. Francis to the side. Besides the portrait of St. Francis in Subiaco, this depiction is held to be the most true to life. The solemnity and simplicity of St. Francis draws your attention, as it contrasts with the grandeur of the rest of the lower church.

Here’s the grandeur I’m talking about. There are numerous lights in the between the columns of the altar that were lit up, too, while I was wandering around.

In stark contrast with the lower church’s intimidating grandeur is just down some steps on the left side of the main part of the church: the crypt of St. Francis. The simplicity of stone walls and the muted color scheme (brown, brown, and more brown) is like a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, the lower church definitely earns a spot on my favorite churches list, but I think it’s good that the tomb of a saint that lived so simply is so simple.

The upper church’s main collection of frescoes is more coherent, all focusing on 28 scenes from the life of St. Francis. There are other frescoes in the church, but I didn’t really get a chance to look at these in great detail.

The Upper Church

I also paid Chiesa di Santa Chiara a visit, early Sunday morning. Two very impressive crucifixes reside here: the Crucifix of San Damiano and a crucifix for which I cannot find a name.

Crucifix of San Damiano

The Crucifix of San Damiano is housed in the Capella di San Giorgio, the entrance to which is on the right side of the church. This is crucifix that addressed St. Francis in the nearby chapel of San Damiano, saying, “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” As we entered the chapel, the Poor Clares could be heard singing their morning prayers from the hidden wings off the sanctuary. I was surprised to find that the crucifix was very familiar; copies of this crucifix can be found in many places, including the UD Rome campus’s chapel.

The second cross dominated the simple interior of the main part of the church. It was larger than life, and at such an early hour in the morning, the only decoration lit up. The picture below really doesn’t do it justice. Definitely visit Santa Chiara twice: once when the crypt is open, and once around 7 in the morning, because that is Santa Chiara at its most dramatic.

Unfortunately, none of these places allowed me to take photographs inside, nor was the crypt of Saint Clare open.

A Letter of Intent

I, Maria Buckner, am embarking upon my first international adventure in a week. When I say study abroad, people ask the courtesy question of where? and I say, Rome, and I gush about how excited I am, and then I make some vague claim that I will try to keep in touch.

This is where the magic, I hope, will happen. In order to soak up the world, and squeeze every last drop out of my semester in Rome as I can, I need to write, and this is where I will do a majority of it. So, welcome, welcome to all newcomers to Climb Ev’ry Mountain. I’ve been here since April of 2012, off and on, quietly, anonymously soaking in the world.

Now, as you can see from the first line, I have gone public. And my intention is to post once a week. I followed a lot of the blogs of classmates who went last semester, and posting was sparse. Understandably so, seeing as the University of Dallas Rome program does not have time or room for fluff. My schedule involves 15 credit hours, a volunteering gig tutoring Italian schoolchildren in English, and a work-study job. Other priorities include running/hiking/walking/generally moving, deepening my interior life & growing in my faith, and being a good friend. Actually climbing a mountain over there might be cool, too. But this blog isn’t fluff, and hopefully my roommate & fellow blogger, Allie Sue Goes Abroad, will help hold each other somewhat accountable.

Broken Promise

I once promised myself I’d never tell anyone about this blog ever. The direction this blog has taken, though, has led me to backpedaling on that promise.

Starting out, I sometimes wrote about things I wouldn’t want people who know me reading about. In the beginning, this place was my only outlet, but I have since then found a good balance between this form of communication and others, such as emailing a close friend, writing letters, etc. So I can write about those things I’d rather keep private, but still share them. There’s something about writing and keeping it to myself that I just can’t deal with very often.

So I have set a few past posts to private, and lightly edited a few others. I have told one person, and plan on telling a few more. This is preparation in the event that I ever identify myself as the author. I can see this turning into a travel log during my study abroad stint, and I’d like to share that with friends, family, and classmates.

Thanks for hanging with me, mountain climbers.