Skip to comments.Franciscans ready to celebrate 800th anniversary of order's founding
Posted on 04/08/2009 1:05:15 PM PDT by NYer
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Some 1,800 Franciscan friars from all over the world were expected to converge on the Umbrian hill town of Assisi, Italy, to celebrate the 800th anniversary of papal approval of the Franciscan rule.
For the first time, representatives from the four main Franciscan branches were to meet in Assisi -- the birthplace of their founder, St. Francis -- to take part in an International Chapter of Mats April 15-18.
A Chapter of Mats gets its name from the time in 1221 St. Francis called more than 3,000 friars to the Portiuncula chapel in Assisi for a general meeting or chapter.
Because the small town could not accommodate the large number of visitors, the friars lived in huts made out of reeds and slept on mats, said Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo, minister general of the Order of Friars Minor.
The three other Franciscan groups participating are the Capuchins, the Conventual Franciscans and the Third Order Regular Franciscans.
The chapter falls on the 800th anniversary of the formal founding of the Franciscan order when St. Francis presented his rule to Pope Innocent III for approval in 1209.
During a press conference April 7 at Vatican Radio, Father Rodriguez underlined the spiritual nature of the gathering and said organizers hope it will be an occasion for "coming together as a family, offering the church and the world our witness of brotherhood and celebrating our beginnings."
With days dedicated to testimonials, penance, fasting, prayer and pilgrimage, the gathering will also be a call to conversion and to live the Gospel as St. Francis asked his disciples to, the minister general said.
Men and women religious will have an occasion to profess their continued fidelity to the pope when they meet with Pope Benedict XVI April 18 during a special audience at Castel Gandolfo, he said.
St. Francis, who was born to a wealthy family in Assisi sometime around 1181, dedicated himself to the poor and preached living a way of peace. He founded three religious orders -- the Friars Minor, the Poor Clares, and the Brothers and Sisters of Penance -- giving each one a special rule.
The orders evolved over time and today include:
-- The first order, which is made up of three separate bodies -- the Friars Minor, the Conventual Franciscans and the Capuchins.
-- The second order, the Poor Clares, which includes all monasteries of cloistered nuns professing the Rule of St. Clare as well as the Sisters of the Annunciation and the Conceptionists.
-- The third order, which is made up of the Third Order Regular Franciscans, a secular order and new foundations.
Father Rodriguez said while the Franciscan branches are juridically separate from one another they are united spiritually and collaborate on a number of projects around the world.
Instead of considering the orders as divided, he said they represent the diversity and plurality in the world.
"The Franciscan order flows from a very rich charism" that can find expression in many people and places, he said.
There are also countless groups, including Anglicans, Lutherans and Presbyterians, who find inspiration in St. Francis and live according to his rule, he said.
Even some Buddhists and Muslims have a special devotion to the Franciscan St. Anthony of Padua, Capuchin Father Mariano Steffan said at the April 7 press conference.
The Franciscan charism "is very open; it doesn't make distinctions, create barriers or segregate," he said.
However, this causes some difficulty in discernment "because when there is such a diversity of expression it's hard to tell when you have the right balance and when you've gone too far," he said.
The Franciscan monastery (Sacro Convento) and the lower and upper church (Basilica inferiore e superiore) of St Francis were begun immediately after his canonization in 1228. Simone di Pucciarello donated the land for the church, a hill at the west side of Assisi, known as "Hill of Hell" (it. Collo d'Inferno - here the criminals were put to death). Today, this hill is aptly called "Hill of Paradise".
The foundation stone was laid by Pope Gregory IX on 17 July 1228, although construction may already have been begun. This impressive church was designed and supervised by brother Elia Bombardone, one of the first followers of St. Francis and the former provincial minister of Syria. The lower basilica was finished in 1230. On Pentecost 25 May 1230 the uncorrupted body of St. Francis was brought in a solemn procession to the lower basilica from its temporary burial place in the church of St. George (now the basilica of St. Clare). The construction of the upper basilica was began after 1239. Construction was completed in 1253. Its architecture is a synthesis of Romanesque and French Gothic artwork, establishing many of the typical characteristics of Italian Gothic architecture.
The churches have been decorated by the greatest late medieval Roman, Umbrian and Tuscan artists of their time, giving these churches an unequaled importance in the development of Italian art. The lower church has frescos by renowned late-medieval artists, such as Cimabue and Giotto; in the upper church are a series frescoes depicting scenes in the life of St Francis attributed to Giotto and his circle.
Pope Nicholas IV, the former Minister-General of the Order of Franciscans, raised the church to the status of papal church in 1288.
The Piazza del Loge, the square leading to the church, is surrounded by colonnades constructed in 1474. They housed the numerous pilgrims flocking to this church.
On 27 October 1986 and January 2002, Pope John Paul II gathered in Assisi with the leaders of the great world confessions to pray for peace.
On September 26, 1997, St Francis' 816th birthday, Assisi was struck by an earthquake which caused four fatalities. The Basilica was badly damaged (part of the vault collapsed, carrying with it a fresco by Cimabue), and was closed for two years for restoration.
The lower basilica consists of a central nave with several side chapels with semi-circular arches. The nave is decorated with the oldest frescoes in the church by an unknown artist, called Maestro di San Francesco. They feature five scenes from the Passion of Christ on the right side, while on the left side equally five scenes from the Life of St. Francis. By this juxtaposition, the Franciscans wanted to contribute to the idea of their founder as a second Christ.
They are connected by a low blue-painted ceiling decorated with golden stars. Most images on the lower walls have decayed to leave almost no trace, except on the right wall fragments of Virgin and Child with an Angel by Cimabue.
These frescoes, executed in tempera on dry plaster, were completed about 1260-1263. They are considered by many as the best examples of Tuscan wall paintings prior to Cimabue. As the popularity of this church increased, side chapels for noble families were added between 1270 and 1350, destroying the frescoes on the opened walls.
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. It was built by Cardinal da Montefiore, and was decorated between 1317 and 1319 with ten frescoes depicting his life by Simone Martini and with a polyptych with figures of saints. These are amongst the greatest works of Simone Martini and the finest examples of 14th century painting. The use of lead white has over the years darkened several passages in these works.
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The name of the city of Los Angeles derives from the angels of that basilica (St. Mary of the Angels), since a lot of the early Spanish placenames in California were bestowed by Franciscan missionaries.
Assisi is magnificent. Anyone visiting Italy should go there.
It is one of the few cities in Italy where one can still hear the song of birds, which are protected in honor of St. Francis. For the most part, Italians have decimated the avian population throughout the rest of the country, hunting them down for broths and stews.
Assisi is a wonderful town and the Basilica is magnificent. I sensed the holiness of the Basilica and the town while there last Fall. I also ate my best meal in Italy in Assisi. If one goes to Assisi, one will not regret it.
I’m glad I got to go to Assisi before the earthquake that did so much damage to it. A beautiful place, and the frescoes are amazing. I feel lucky to have been there while it was still in its original state, before the quake hit.
bumpus ad summum
April 18 marked the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan order. Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the occasion at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, along with nearly two thousand religious and lay Franciscans. (Another significant anniversary was celebrated the following day: Benedict was elected as Pope on April 19, 2005.) If all of its branches are counted together, the Franciscans today comprise the largest religious order in the Church.
Those numbers are eloquent testimony to the enduring legacy of St. Francis of Assisi to the Church. Like other famous saints, through his holiness and charism St. Francis helped the Church of his day to renew its Christian identity. And contemporary Franciscans such as Father Benedict Groeschel, co-founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, continue to draw on that same charism and holiness to renew the Church today.
Speaking to the Franciscans assembled Saturday at Castel Gandolfo, The Pope recalled how St. Francis heard Gods voice telling him, Repair my house, and he urged todays Franciscans to continue those efforts of fixing the serious ruins in society and mankind, CNS reported. Like Francis, always begin with yourself, Benedict said. We are the first homes that God wants restored.