Can you imagine entering a sacred space of beauty and deep spiritual inspiration? How would it feel to step away from the fast-paced life and immerse yourself in a timeless world of rolling hills, cobblestone streets and inspirational art?
April 14-24, 2020
Following the example of St. Francis at San Damiano, we will also explore the use of art in our own contemplative practice. The pilgrimage pace will be relaxed, allowing for spacious moments of solitude and contemplative silence, as pilgrims draw from a deep well of spiritual nourishment.
Each day we will ground ourselves in prayer and reflection. We encourage pilgrims to bring a musical instrument, art supplies, a journal, or anything else that nurtures the soul. Contemplative practices will help us reach inward, so that we might be more deeply touched by the beauty and inspiration of this sacred land and its culture. Pilgrims will stay in a convent of Franciscan sisters in the historic center of Assisi.
Our journey will begin with a walk through Assisi, located in Umbria, the green heart of Italy. Treasured as the birthplace of both St. Francis and St. Clare, Assisi instills a sense of peace and meaning in the many pilgrims who travel through its wonderfully preserved history. Flowering balconies and frescoes can be seen at nearly every turn. As we orient ourselves to the historic town, we will become immersed in the beauty of Assisi’s cobblestone lanes, immense gates, and medieval architecture. Our evening will end with a group dinner at the retreat center.
On our second day, we will continue our exploration of the town as we visit sites important to the early lives of St. Clare and St. Francis. At the Cathedral of San Rufino, we will see the site of St. Clare’s childhood home and the font where St. Francis, St. Clare, and Emperor Frederick II were each baptized. We then will stroll down to the site of San Giorgio where St. Francis attended school and where he preached early sermons. We continue on to Chiesa Nuova, the site of St Francis’s birth and the adjacent family home and business. We end our walking tour at Santa Maria Maggiore where St. Francis renounced his family inheritance, stripping off his clothes and dedicating his life to God. In the evening, we will gather for an evening prayer service with the Poor Clares, the contemplative order of nuns founded by St. Clare.
On our third day we will walk past the medieval city walls and down to San Daimiano, the church where St. Francis heard God’s call and where St. Clare established her religious community.
On the fourth day, we will focus on the life of St. Francis as depicted in Giotto’s fresco cycle in the Upper Basilica of St. Francis. We will see how Francis’s emphasis on the humanity of Christ later translated to a radical visual reinterpretation of the Gospel story by some of the masters of Late Medieval Art. We will also view relics and additional artwork in the Basilica Treasury and Museum, and Cimabue’s famous portrait of St. Francis. After personal reflective time, we will gather for an evening prayer service at the crypt of St. Francis in the majestic Basilica of St. Francis.
On the fifth day, we will visit Rivotorto, a stream at the foot of Mount Subasio where St. Francis and his followers lived in an abandoned hovel. We will then travel to the Porziuncula and the church of St. Mary of the Angels, headquarters of St. Francis and his brothers, and the place to which St. Clare ran away from her family to embrace her call to serve God. Here we will encounter frescoes by Perugino, Overbeck and have our first glimpse of a Della Robbia terra cotta relief. In the evening, we will visit the neighboring village of Bevagna, where local chef Simone Proietti Pesci will treat us to a multi-course dinner accompanied by several local Umbrian wines.
Day six is a free day for exploring and following Spirit-led adventures on your own.
On our seventh day, we will focus on the life of St. Clare with a visit to the Basilica of St. Clare. Home to many relics, paintings, frescoes, and the original San Damiano crucifix, the 13th-century church also contains the tomb of Saint Clare. In the evening, we will gather for an evening prayer service with the Poor Clares, the contemplative order of nuns founded by St. Clare.
Our eighth day will bring us to the forest gorge and isolated caves of Mount Subasio. Here St. Francis and his followers found a quiet home in the hermitage of Carceri. Surrounded by a thicket, the hermitage provides a secluded place for prayer and meditation, and Saint Francis returned here often throughout his life. Following in the saint’s footsteps, we will take time to enjoy a day of silence and solitude, returning to the convent at our own pace.
On the ninth day, we will travel together to La Verna, enclosed in a forest on Mounte Penna in Tuscany where we will view the Chapel of the Stigmata, built upon the sacred ground where St. Francis received the stigmata during forty days of fasting. We will also visit Santa Maria degli Angeli and Basilica Maggiore to view their art and relics. The Basilica and Chapels present us with a staggering array of glazed terra cotta altarpieces by members of the Della Robbia family.
The tenth day will begin with a discussion about the Assisi Underground during World War II. We will then walk to the Museo della Memoria, to the Basilica of St. Francis, and to Hotel Subasio with its historic architecture and views of the valley. Finally, we will visit the church and abbey of San Pietro.
We will end our pilgrimage together with a final morning of contemplative practice, closing reflections, and midday meal, as we prepare to integrate the wisdom we have gained into our everyday lives.