As we climbed into Umbria on the train, the landscape we’d experienced for the past two weeks on the Campania coastline and the Bay of Naples transformed dramatically into rolling hills and green mountains, verdant pastures and fields, spring’s blooming fruit trees and budding leaves. I was reminded, gazing out the window, of the landscape of a state where I spent twenty years and love so much: Vermont.
We arrived in Assisi on Good Friday. Collected at the train station by our Airbnb host, we were welcomed into our apartment with stunning views of the Umbrian countryside and sat outside as the sun went down over the horizon after a long day of trains and automobiles.
Much like in Sorrento before, Assisi has its own Holy Week traditions. We set out, post dinner, to catch the Processione del Cristo Morto through the dark streets, lit only by candlelight, as it arrived at the Basilica di San Francesco to reunite Mary with her son. Swept into the crowd as the procession arrived at and proceeded into the basilica, we watched as the ceremony continued inside and then left to return to the San Rufino Cathedral. After a few minutes, we moved ahead of the procession, on back streets, to arrive at the arch where Via San Francesco intersects Via Fortini to observe the solemn procession pass by mourning the death of Christ. The only lights are by candle. Silence is punctured only by the drum beats, announcing the approach of the procession. A loudspeaker plays the Italian call. The answer is the solemn sound of mourning nuns singing. The statue of Mary (la Madre Dolorosa) just reunited with the statue of Cristo Morto, brought to the Basilica di San Francesco that morning, are carried back to the Cathedral of San Rufino in this sorrowful march. Moving, barely describes it.
The next day, we set out to explore the town. We joined Rick Steves’ walking tour of Assisi which takes you from the top of town, down through its winding streets past and into its many churches. The home of St. Francis of Assisi is all about the churches and Easter weekend felt like a particularly good, though unplanned by us, time to visit.
Rick’s audio tour (a separate one) of St. Francis’ Basilica, however, was the highlight. It brings you from the Romanesque lower Basilica, to the crypt with St. Francis’ remains, to the gothic upper Basilica and its paintings of the life of St. Francis. Rick’s descriptions take you along to appreciate the 12th century painted depictions of Francis’ life from his youth as a rich boy, to his military service in the crusades, to his renouncing his wealth and casting away his clothing to his miracles and his death and sainthood it was maybe the best Rick Steves tour we’ve done (to date).
Assisi is a beautiful town: from the Umbrian fields surrounding it, to its city walls and inner churches and cobblestoned streets. We were lucky to have slightly unseasonably warm temperatures and bright sunny skies for most of our visit, which made the walking tours, meandering and observing the Easter weekend in this religious hub of Italy all the more enjoyable.