Friday, November 15, 2013

Mystery Photo #23: Assisi, Italy and Mount Tabor by our connection.

       The Mystery Photo #23 depicts the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi  An aerial view of the Basilica appeared on this 1920 travel poster in the photo below to the right. But this town of 25,000 people with 3700 residents within the surviving medieval walls of Old Town contains many other churches and landmark sites. Below on the right is the Roman facade of the Temple of Minerva converted in the first centuries of the Common Era to a Christian church. The bell tower on the right is called the Municipal Tower.


 The city is Assisi, in the Perugia province of the Umbria region of Italy, a city located on the side of Mount Subasio.  People lived in this area starting in 1000 BC. This town became first an Umbrian settlement, then Etruscan and then, of course, Roman. There are still Roman ruins to be found around the city and underneath some of the current landmarks. Most famous of these Roman buildings turned modern landmark is the Temple of Minerva, also the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. This is a modern name of the remains of Roman temple in which a female statue was found, and was thought to be the goddess Minerva. But there was also a dedication stone to  Hercules raising the question whether this Temple was really constructed to honor the male demi-god. Some structure survived on this site with the same columnar facade until 1539 when the current church was built around the facade and pediment. The church was remodeled in the 18th century with baroque styling. The Temple of Minerva is located on an original Piazza de Commune in Assisi, in English, the Communal Plaza.

   In 538 AD, Assisi was converted to Christianity by Bishop Rufino. His remains are purported to be in another famous church in the city: The Cathedral of San Rufino.
Cathedral di San Rufino
     St. Francis of Assisi was born in Assisi in 1181 AD. He was named Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but his father gave him the nickname of Franceso because as a young man he loved all things French. After going to war twice and being captured and held for a year by the Perugians during their battle with the Commune d'Assisi, Francesco underwent a slow conversion to the ascetic and mystical life of a Catholic monk, though he was never an ordained priest. He founded the Catholic men's Order of Friars Minor, the women's Order of St. Clare (the Poor Clares), and the Third Order of Saint Francis for men and women not engaging in the priesthood or nunneries. St Francis is one of the most known religious figures in history. He is the patron male saint of Italy. He traveled extensively and on many occasions attempted to end conflict especially during the crusades. As his life advanced, he became more monastic and finally withdrew from public life. But his teachings have become the basis of one of the largest religious movements of human history. He died in 1226 and was sainted by 1228. Shortly thereafter, the corner stone of the Basilica was laid and this edifice was completed in 1253.

   Many other churches exist in Assisi. Some have been erected over St. Francis' home, over the site of his death, and over where his body was kept for a time to protect it from marauders. Also there are a total of 7 saints including St. Francis and St. Clare who were born or grew up in Assisi. Several churches honor these saints. All in all, the city since Roman times has been home to an exceptional amount of spirituality.

   Below is seen the Basilica of Saint Clare. Clare was a follower of St. Francis who also grew up in Assisi. She founded the Order of Saint Clare also called the Poor Clares. There is a convent in Assisi named after Saint Clare. In the Basilica seen through this city gate, are the remains of Saint Clare as well as the remains of Saint Agnes.

Basilica of Saint Clare through a Roman gate in the
walled Old Town, population 3700.

Basilica of Saint Clare.

Medieval tower in Assisi. I have been unable to identify this church.
Can anyone help?

Chiesa Nuovo, built over the house where Francis was born, that is the
home of Pietro Bernardone. To the right stands the crenelated Municipal Tower

Street scenes in Old Town Assisi. 
        When my husband and I left Italy in 2004 and went on to Israel, we again ran into the Franciscan model of Catholicism. We decided with some friends to drive to the top of Mount Tabor adjacent to Amech Jezreel, (The Valley of Israel.) Mount Tabor is of course purported to be the site of the Transfiguration of Christ. For those who need some reminder as I indeed did, this event is described in the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke  and is referred to by Peter in his writing. Jesus went with three disciples Peter, James and John to an unspecified mountain. The disciples witnessed Jesus glowing with radiance and with robes like white light, speaking with Moses and with Elijah. Then a voice as from heaven said: "This is my son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." Theologically all sorts of interpretations and importance have been applied to the description of this event. The Transfiguration is most important in the Eastern Orthodox church but it is also observed on a feast day in the Roman Catholic Church. In the third century AD, Origen wrote that the mountain was likely Mount Tabor. Since that time, there have been various monasteries and churches on the top of the Mountain.

Mount Tabor and the Jezreel Valley, Israel

  To commemorate this occurrence as described in the New Testament, two religious groups now have churches on the top of Mount Tabor. One is the Eastern Orthodox Church who have long had a monastery there. The other is the Franciscan Order. We arrived at the top of Mount Tabor at about noon. Therefore the gate to the Franciscan property was closed. The sign said it would not open until 1:30 PM. We sat in a small grove outside the gate and waited. Finally, our friend became somewhat impatient and we all walked to the gate, even though it was early. A nun came out to greet us and to tell us that we still had 1/2 hour before the grounds would reopen. I struck up a "conversation" (we had no common language) with the nun, asking her where she was from. She named some small community in Italy which I now don't remember. But I managed to get across to her that we had just come from Assisi. And through various hand motions and pursing of the lips we both communicated that that city was a magnificent and a very holy place. She shortly pulled out her keys and opened the gate for us. Not only that; she gave my Israeli Jewish husband and his friend Yacov who had asked to go inside the convent to use the men's restroom, -- a complete tour of the public area of the convent and another side building. All because of the magic name of Francis d'Assisi.

     Here are some photos from that visit to Mount Tabor.

View from atop Mount Tabor. The village in the distance is part of Nazareth.

Driving up to the top of Mount Tabor.

Aereal view of the top of Mount Tabor with the Franciscan Basilica of
the Transfiguration of Christ flanked by its nunnery and monastery.

Basilica of the Transfiguration of Christ 

Inside the Basilica of the Transfiguration

Ruins of a Benedictine monastery on Mount Tabor.

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