Pilgrims have been travelling to Assisi, homeplace of Saint Francis and Saint Claire, since the 13th century. Today we introduce you to some of the most special places to see in Assisi, a spiritual place of pilgrimage and one of the most stunning medieval towns in Italy.
The holy city of Assisi isn’t only the birthplace and resting place of Saint Francis but where he founded the Franciscan Order spreading the message of love, peace and tolerance; and where his disciple Saint Claire founded the Poor Clares order.
A unique city-sanctuary devoted to this beloved saint, Assisi is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its extraordinary art, architecture and history. These are some of the most special places to visit on a pilgrimage to the home of Saint Francis:
BASILICA OF SAN FRANCESCO – ST FRANCIS BASILICA
The Basilica of San Francesco is the resting place of Saint Francis and the town’s most important sanctuary.
The Basilica is in fact, two ‘twin’ churches: the oldest Basilica Inferiore and the Basilica Superiore, in a Gothic style. Its construction began in 1228, just a couple of years after Saint Francis’ death.
The Basilica is home to extraordinary medieval art including 28 frescoes by Giotto depicting the life of Saint Francis; as well as the tomb of Saint Francis at the Cripta di San Francesco.
The tomb of Saint Francis was actually hidden for 600 years and only discovered in 1818.
From the Basilica’s upper square, pilgrims can admire beautiful panoramic views of the whole town of Assisi. The Basilica is possibly the most visited and most important place to see in Assisi.
BASILICA DI SANTA CHIARA – ST CLAIRE BASILICA
Saint Claire or Santa Chiara, also from Assisi, was Saint Francis’ first and most faithful disciple, as well as one of the most influential women in the history of the Catholic Church.
She was only 18 years old when she ran away from her wealthy family to join Saint Francis and dedicated her life to the poor.
The Basilica di Santa Chiara with its striking pink and white facade is dedicated to Saint Claire, founder of the Order of the Poor Claires and built in the 13th century, only four years after her death.
Here pilgrims can visit her resting place at the crypt, as well as the 12th century crucifix of San Damiano which spoke to Saint Francis.
SAN RUFINO CATHEDRAL
The Cathedral of San Rufino is the oldest church in Assisi, built in the 12th century although it was remodelled in the 17th century. It is here where both Saint Francis and Saint Clare were baptized.
This Baroque building known literally as the ‘New Church’ was built by King Philip III of Spain in the 17th century over what was believed to be the homeplace of Saint Francis.
Outside the church, pilgrims can see a statue honoring Saint Francis’ parents.
TEMPIO DI MINERVA
Tempio di Minerva is one of the oldest temples in Assisi with over 2000 years of history. This is a beautiful classic ancient Roman temple, built in the first century BC during the reign of Augustus. As a pagan temple it was abandoned for a while before becoming the Communi of Assisi and eventually converted into a church.
BASILICA DI SANTA MARIA DEGLI ANGELI
Another unmissable place to see in Assisi is the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. It was built in the 16th century but incorporates the Porziuncula chapel which dates back to the 10th century and was one of Saint Francis’ favourite places.
Saint Francis established his residence and founded the Franciscan Order here. The Rose garden planted with thornless roses is also related to an important episode in the life of the Saint.
Saint Francis asked God to offer indulgence to all those who visit the chapel, known as the Pardon of Assisi. This Indulgence has been extended to those visiting a Franciscan Church on 1st or 2nd August, which is a special date at this chapel for this reason.
SAN DAMIANO CHURCH
Beyond the town walls of Assisi, a short distance from the town, the Church of San Damiano enjoys wonderful views of the valley. It is believed it was here where Saint Francis came to pray and where God first spoke to him, urging him to “Go and repair my Church which is falling to ruin” starting his life’s mission.
EREMO DELLE CARCERI
A few miles outside the old town on the slopes of Mount Subasio, pilgrims can visit the hermitage caves where Saint Francis and his followers prayed and retreated for isolation, known as ‘Eremo delle Carceri’ or cells.
The Grotto of Saint Francis is where the Saint slept on a rock bed towards the end of his life.
The Rocca Maiore fort offers pilgrims and visitors the best panoramic views of Assisi and the valley that inspired Saint Francis. The fort was built in the 12th century as a defensive structure but later destroyed and rebuilt in the 14th century. While the fort doesn’t have a direct relation to the life of Saint Francis, it is a beautiful place to visit and definitely a must see in Assisi.
BEST TIME TO GO
Our recommendation is to avoid the Summer months and enjoy the medieval charm and spirituality of this beautiful historic town in the Spring, Autumn/fall or Winter.
Easter and Christmas time are popular times of the year to visit Assisi; as well as 4th October, Feast of Saint Francis.
We hope you enjoyed our suggestions for things to see in Assisi. Assisi is one of the shrines visited on our Pilgrimage to Italy tours.