St Francis and Assisi
Prepared for Apostrophe
An Occasional Information Sheet from St Peter's, Eastern Hill
Issue No. 41, Feast Day of St Francis, 1999
October 4 marks the feast day of St Francis, patron saint of Italy, the most
beloved and generally revered of the saints of the medieval Church. Perhaps
because of his well-documented love for all God's creatures, he is also
considered to be the patron saint for animals. Blessings on our church steps
or maybe even at the altar rail cannot be far away. One of my favourite
frescoes shows an earnest Francis preaching to an attentive and alert
congregation of the birds of the air. They were standing in neat rows,
not missing a thing.
It was not by simple chance that October 4 was chosen as the date of my
induction to St Peter's. That day, that saint, that place is very important
to me. Many times over the years that beautiful Umbrian hill town, so deeply
associated with one of the great saints of God, has been a place of rest and
refreshment for me. The first time I went there was in 1973. I was a graduate
student in London. I was simply bowled over by the beauty, by the accumulated
faith of the centuries, by the sense of the closeness of God. I gaped in wonder
at the marvellous frescoes, telling the story that had to be told. And I
explored every nook and cranny of this town that goes back to Roman times.
So I sat in the tiny ledge garden at San Damiano's where the Canticle of the
Creatures was written and I saw where St Clare had held the monstrance aloft
in the face of the invading Saracen army. I climbed the steep road to the
hermitage up the side of Monte Subasio and I strode down the hill in the early
morning darkness to the first mass at the tomb, at the very lowest part of the
Basilica. With other pilgrims, I revelled in the simple faithfulness of the
hidden Poor Clares as they joyfully sang their office at Santa Chiara's. I
clung halfway up an 800 year old pillar to hear the gospel-fresh words of
Mother Teresa. These and a hundred other things I was able to do over the
years: some very secular like coffee and gelati in the sun, or falling in
love; and many, including those, being part of a developing sense of God's
A constant in all this was the house of the American Sisters, St Anthony's,
on the Via Galeazzo Alessi. It is just below San Rufino's the town cathedral
and just above the tower of Santa Chiara, (with a wonderful family restaurant
in between serving the best version of tiramisu ever found). Those American
and Italian sisters provided a loving home from home and a true place to
develop a friendship with God.
The terrible earthquake which hit Assisi two years ago, pales into
insignificance compared to the horrors of what we have now seen in Turkey.
But a lovely place was sorely damaged and torn apart. Lives were lost.
Priceless works of art crumbled into nothing for all I know including
my pert rows of attentive birds. That place that I knew so well and with
people there whom I knew and loved could not be the same.
On September 1st last, just a month ago, St Anthony's re-opened its
welcoming doors to pilgrims. Sr Rosita, 50 years in vows two years ago now,
is still there with a smile and a hug. Bruna still achieves wonders in a
rebuilt kitchen that dates from the 12th century. God will be honoured. Il
Poverello, the little poor one; San Francesco, will still be bringing those
who are open and searching, closer to God.
Fr John Davis
Views is a
St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.