July 14 (Thursday)
After two back to back days of adventuring, we spent the first half of the day relaxing, resting and swimming.
The couple that owns the apartment we stayed in also has an olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette company. You can read more about their company here. Around 15:00, they held a tasting for us. All of them were delicious, but my two favorites were the white pomegranate vinaigrette and the white truffle vinaigrette.
Once we finished the tasting, we went into Cortona to wander around a bit. After walking around for about an hour, we drove a little outside of town to the Convento de Le Celle. This still functioning monastery has been nestled at the foot of Mount St. Egidio since it was opened by Saint Francis in the early 1200s.
We got there around 7, so we were the only ones there. We walked around the grounds and trails until it started to get dark. It is a truly peaceful and serene place.
July 15 (Friday)
We spent the day paying homage to and learning about Saint Francis in his hometown Assisi, in the region of Umbria.
It was about an hour drive from our apartment to the ancient walled hill town of Assisi.
So, who was Saint Francis? Francesco Bernardone was a simple friar who countered the decadence and opulence of the church. In 1206, he had a vision that changed his life; he turned his back on material things and declared loyalty to God alone. He preached and practiced non-materialism, tolerance and love to all creation. He taught by example, by traveling around spreading his message and living simply. He also preached in the local language instead of only in Latin, making God accessible to all. A huge monastic order grew out of his teachings. In 1939, Saint Francis was named one of Italy’s patron saints.
The town of Assisi is a living biography of Francis’ life. Sites include where he was baptized, where he prayed, where he is buried, and much more. Today, the over commercialization of Assisi goes against the teachings of simplicity that Saint Francis taught.
We started our day at the Basilica of Saint Francis. In 1226, the basilica was built over the site where Saint Francis and four of his close friends and followers were buried. Inside, there are frescos from top to bottom – all done by the leading artists of the day like Giotto and Piertro Lorenzetti.
Before visiting this basilica, I had never been to a large pilgrimage site. It was a powerful experience to watch pilgrims and devotees kneel at the tomb of Saint Francis; praying to him. Even if you don’t identify with religion, I think we all as human beings can aspire to Saint Francis’ message. This, contrasted with guards yelling “shh” in the basilica is a visually and emotionally chaotic experience.
After looking around the basilica for a couple hours, we went to explore the town. We followed the Rick Steves guided walk through Assisi and stopped at all the major sites.