San Francesco is not the patron saint of our Assisi: He is the patron saint of all Italy along with Catherine of Siena. Most Italians aren’t practicing Catholics. Let’s just call them “cultural Catholics”. Example: ask an Italian, “Sei cattolico?” “Certo!” will be the answer. Then ask about last Mass attended. A likely reply: “a Natale” (“for Christmas”). Catholic or not, you don’t mess with the name of San Francesco in this country. He is “Numero Uno” for the Italians. And Alessandro del Piero is only Numero Due (greatest Italian soccer player?).
St. Francis’ feast day, October 4th, is a big day in Assisi. A big day in Italy. In 2005, the Italian Parliament declared this day to be a celebration of peace, brotherhood and dialogue among all peoples, all religions.
Each year, one of the twenty regions of Italy brings the oil which will burn all year in front of his Tomb. This year, the honor goes to the Region of Molise and the Molisani have chosen this slogan for their pilrimage: “Il Molise ad Assisi: con Francesco, costruttori di pace.” (“..with Francis, builders of peace”).
On October 4th, gold-fringed blue and red banners – colors of Assisi- will drape the medieval buildings of the main square. At 9 a.m in front of the 14th-century city hall, the trumpeters of Assisi in blue and red medieval dress will sound Assisi’s anthem, announcing the start of the procession to St. Francis’ Tomb – in the Basilica di San Francesco, built to house his body.
An array of colorful banners of the cities of Molise will be born in procession by their town policemen, each Molise city mayor – in green, red, white sash – preceding the town banner. The mayor of Assisi, city councilmen, the president of the Region of Umbria and other local officials follow, flanked by urban policemen and the national policemen, carabinieri, in their regal dress uniforms. Religious join in, too, and then the local people, Assisani, Molisani and people from all over Italy. (Any separation of Church and State in Italy? well, in theory, yes…)
The day after the Festa, Oct 5th, the town of Assisi becomes an open marketplace as the annual street fair, la Fiera di San Francesco, winds its way through the medieval alleyways. Very early in the morning, 150 vendors (from all over Italy) set up their booths and most of Assisi is a street market until sunset.
For anyone wishing to experience the Italians while here in Italy, there is no better way than participation in the festivities in honor of their beloved San Francesco.
Read about a memorable Oct 4th – with Pope Francis here!
Read more about a most special Feast of St. Francis
Read about the floral welcome in Assisi for Pope Francis
Click here to read about the Oct 5th Fiera di San Francesco
Click here to read about Assisi’s excitement over the election of Pope Francis
Click here to read about Assisi’s other wondrous festival, Calendimaggio