Basilica di San Francesco
on Piazza di San Francesco has its own information office facing the entrance to the lower building. The basilica was badly damaged and 4 people died inside during the earthquake in 1997. The restoration process began many years ago and finally finished in 2010. The basilica which sits on the slopes of “Hill of hell” (as it was named centuries ago) was where prisoners were killed in the gallows here until the 13th century. To imitate Jesus, Saint Francis’ wish was to lie in this basilica among outlaws after his death. The hill’s name was then changed to “Paradise Hill”.
The upper church was constructed in the first half of the 13th century. It is a grand building in a different style to the lower church. It is not certain who created the 28-piece fresco depicted on the walls of the church. This world famed piece of art was originally thought to be the work of Giotto and his pupils but now it seems more doubtful. The cycle which can be read clockwise begins to the right of the altar. Above are frescoed images of the Holy Bible. These frescoes were innovative in style and brought about a great change in Western Art to follow. Byzantine
flat images or golden leaves were forgotten and instead there all social classes were depicted, a very human depiction of Jesus and other natural representations.
Painters were of course the narrators for the poor as the lower classes on the whole were illiterate and so paintings were a way to spread the word besides preaching.
Each painting representing a part of Saint Francis’ life relates to a Bible passage. The lower church was erected just before the construction of the upper church was started. German, English and Flemish craftsmen created the stained glass windows that were a remarkable architectural achievement in the 13th century. The main altar is crowned by four frescoes supposedly by Maestro delle Vele. They show Francis defeating evil, poverty, obedience and chastity (The moral rules of the order he founded).
The left transept houses a triptych by Lorenzetti. One of his images, the Madonna Who Celebrates Francis,
caused much disagreement up until 1234 when the pope declared the picture was not heretical and that the comparison between John and Francis was in actual fact correct.Cimabue
also painted in this church. He obtained information about Saint Francis from his two nephews who had known him. His tranquil Francis in the Madonna in Majesty
is thought to be the best. Thomas of Celano, the first to write a biography about Francis, said Francis had the ability to convey a clear and strong message and was happy and positive.
Beneath the lower church is the saint’s crypt surrounded by benches.
In the Relic Hall of the basilica are his tunic, sandals, fragments of Canticle of the Creatures and the Franciscan rule parchment are also kept here.
Francis was born into a rich family running a textile business. Fashion and charm were not unknown to him. However after participating as a soldier, following a dream he decided that he had to return to his homeland where he started donating money and cloths. His father’s threats were not enough to keep him away from his new concept of life. And he followed his heart in poverty. Another very young noble heiress also embraced his cause and set up the first Franciscan convent. Her name was Chiara
. As time elapsed his following increased in the area. Francis’ love for the sick, animals and nature turned him into their protector.