Anne's Blog

  • San Francesco

Sublime Music, Sublime Space

Date: January 4, 2011 - categories: , - 3 Comments

In front of the majestic 13th-c. Basilica di San Francesco, the life-size crèche figures in medieval garb (in harmony with medieval Assisi), set the Christmas theme for visitors about to enter this wondrous church. “No more exquisite monument to the Lord has yet been built”, wrote a thirteenth-century historian of the Basilica di San Francesco. What’s changed?

san-francesco-presepe

Life-sized crache figures in front of the Basilica

I’ve made countless visits to this marvel during our thirty-five years here, and I quite simply fell in love with this three-level Basilica when I had to scrutinize it, absorb it, analyze it in every detail during two years of intense study prior to the rigorous exams required for authorization as a Guida Regionale dell’Umbria. I passed those exams in 1997 – and then, the earthquake struck on September 26th of that year. Che tragedia! Like all of the Assisani, I was heart-broken when the earthquake caused a collapse of two sections of the vault of the upper level, la Basilica Superiore di San Francesco, requiring the closing of the Upper Church for two years of structural restoration: nearly one million almost-invisible hairline cracks were sealed in the Upper Church and the vault was emptied of two thousand tons of stone rubble and then re-packed. The pictorial restoration – the attempt at re-piecing the thousands of fresco pieces of the two shattered vaults – went on for years. The results of patient work on “the world’s most precious and puzzling puzzle” can be viewed now: the vaults are back in place, the frescoes looking like moth-eaten Persian rugs, perhaps – but restorers gave back to the world all that they could. Un miracolo.

Inumerable visits or not to the Basilica, I was unprepared for the wallop of emotions when entering the Upper Church this mid-December Saturday: the stained glass windows, the azzurite blue star-studded vault and the Giotto fresco cycle (early 14th c) of the Vita di San Francesco lining the nave were highlighted splendidly in brilliant light. Every light source was on (not usual as the lighting is in rotation to conserve energy) and additional spotlights lined the upper cornice just under the stained glass windows, throwing bright light upwards onto the starry vault – and the post-earthquake fresco restoration – and downwards on to Giotto’s scenes of the life of San Francesco.

san-francesco-sky

Star-studded vault of the Upper Basilica

Gazing on the masterpieces enhanced by this brilliant lighting, I was transported to the settimo cielo (“seventh heaven” – and yes, the Italians, too, have this expression!). Not only: no one cared if I photographed that day! The Basilica guards in uniform just smiled and wished me “auguri, Anna!” (We guides are used to hearing them on their mikes, admonishing visitors “Silenzio! No foto, no video“).

The sublime visual scene was highlighted by musicians tuning their violins as the church filled with national, regional and local political figures, elegantly-dressed women (fur coats seen!), and suave men. Emotions high for my husband Pino and me as an usher showed us to our seats. This “by-invitation-only” twenty-fifth annual Concerto di Natale in the Basilica Superiore was about to start. So what were WE doing at this concert which will be nationally (and internationally) broadcast on RAI Uno on December 25th? Well, it pays to work for the Franciscans: Pino is a builder and his workers are now restoring the office of Padre Enzo Fortunato, Franciscan press attaché for the Basilica. Pino was in Padre Enzo’s office one day last week as orders were going out: “That’s it: no more invitations – seven-hundred-and-forty are out and we’re at our limit.” Pino said jokingly to Padre Enzo, “…..but are you sure there aren’t two more?” Padre Enzo – or San Francesco! – made it happen.

san-francesco-frescos-2

Sublime music in a sublime space

Passing right under the restored fresco over the door, the Cardinal, representing the Pope and preceded by preceded by proud young carabinieri in their dress uniforms with plumed hats, walked solemnly past us down the center aisle to the front of the crowded Basilica. National, regional and local politcal figures headed to their seats, passing the Giotto fresco depicting the first crèche, created by San Francesco who put together a “living manger” scene in Greccio (north Latium) in 1223, to bring alive the Christmas gospel for the locals.

And then the “Natale con Francesco” concert filled the Basilica as orchestra and choirs let loose: Bach, Vivaldi, Grieg, the music of Leonard Cohen, traditional Christmas music sung by Michael Bolton and Noa’, the Basilica choir joining voices with a children’s choir. Sublime music in a sublime space.

carabinieri

Proud young carabinieri in dress uniform

Footnote: Yes, tragic was the damage to the Basilica Superiore di San Francesco but more tragic was the loss of life: two art restorers and two friars died at the door, trying to escape, as the vault over the door collapsed. One restorer, Bruno Brunacci, was a friend.

For detailed article on the fresco restoration of that vault, see http://www.annesitaly.com/Insights/AssisiUmbria/fresco.html
For more on Umbria’s Christmas traditions, see http://www.annesitaly.com/?p=895

san-francesco-fresco

concert-3

concert-2

concert

san-francesco-frescos

Click here to read about Basilica di San Francesco fresco restoration following the 1997 earthquake

Read more on earthquake restoration in Assisi – and not only

Read about the celebration of the “living Nativity” scene throughout Umbria at Christmastime

Read about Christmas simplicity in Assisi

3 Comments

  • Colleen says:

    Anne, Thank you for this lovely article. I haven’t been back to Assisi since 2001, and so want to see it again. It sounds like I should think about next Christmas! :)

  • Mary Carole Scott says:

    Beautifully described….Virginia & I deeply appreciated your talents; & the earthly countryside & churches of Umbria!!

    What a labor of love & awesome committment of the restorers!!!

  • Susan Pautler says:

    Anne,
    Buon Natale!
    You write so exquisitely of Christmas in Umbria and especially of the Basilica of Saint Francis. Makes me want to be there with you. Enjoy the Italian traditions in your Little world of heaven on earth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

 

Privacy Policy

Privacy Italian Legislative Decree n° 196/2003 Under Article 13 of the Italian Legislative Decree no. 196/2003, regulations with regard to the Protection of Personal Data, this is an informative report to all interested parties on the modality of the treatment of personal data, arising from interaction with our website www.annesitaly.com
THE PRINCIPAL FOR DATA TREATMENT During site consultation, personal data referring to identified or identifiable persons can be processed. The principal for data treatment is Anne Robichaud Pian della Pieve Assisi 06081 (PG) Italy. The data will be mainly processed at the mentioned head office by the people responsible for the website or by other people appointed for occasional maintenance operations, provided that their actions conform to of the guarantees enshrined in the Legislative Decree 196/2003.
TYPE OF DATA TREATED
Web navigation The information systems and software procedures required for the functioning of this website, acquire some personal data during their normal service, the transmission of which is implicit in the use of web communication protocols. This information is not collected with the purpose of identifying interested parties, but due to its very nature, the information could lead to user identification through processes and relations with data held by third parties. In this data category there are IP addresses or domain names belonging to computers used by users who connect to the site, addresses with URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) notification of the requested resources, time of the request, used method in submitting the request to the server, dimension of the file obtained in replying, the numeric code mentioning the reply status given by the server (successful reply, error, etc?) and other parameters referred to the operation system and to the user’s information environment. This data is used with the sole purpose of obtaining anonymous statistical information on the use of the site and to check the correct functioning; immediately after processing, the data is erased.
Data voluntarily supplied by the user The voluntary optional and explicit e-mail transmission to the addresses mentioned in this site implies the subsequent acquisition of the sender’s address, necessary to reply to the queries, as well as the other eventual personal data registered in the message.
OPTIONAL PERSONAL DATA SUPPLY Except for the above mentioned navigation data, the user may be asked to supply his own personal data through queries or messages to the email addresses shown in the contact pages. Failure to provide such data may be the cause of the inability to obtain the requested information from the company.
TREATMENT MODALITY The personal data is treated in compliance with the Legislative Decree no. 196/2003 and held only for the time necessary to achieve the aim for which it has been collected. Specific safety measures are taken to prevent any data loss, illicit or incorrect use and unauthorized access.
RIGHTS OF THIRD PARTIES The data subjects are at any time entitled to obtain confirmation as to whether or not data relating to him are held, to know the contents and the origin, to check the correctness, to ask for integration, updating or change (art. 7 Decree Law 196:June 2003). In accordance with the same article, they are entitled to obtain the erasure, conversion into anonymous form or freezing of all data used in breach of the law, to object, on legitimate grounds, to the processing of data relating to him. All requests have to be transmitted to the e-mail address anne@annesitaly.com

Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi handles all technical support for my guided visits (bus transportation, organization of meals, etc)