Pino and I were grateful for invitations to the annual mid-December Assisi Christmas concert in the upper level of the Basilica di San Francesco (always televised nationally on Christmas Day).
In anticipation, we walked quickly to the entrance on that icy night, passing the crib scene with nearly life-sized figures backdropped by the glorious white limestone facade of the Upper Basilica:
Below us, myriads of white lights twinkled on the Christmas tree towering in front of the Lower Basilica:
My gratitude for the much-coveted concert tickets was twofold: appreciation for the glorious music we’d hear – and for the chance to view the splendid frescoes with brilliant lighting, seeing the Upper Basilica of St. Francis in full glory.
Before the concert as I watched the musicians tune up in the apse, I wondered if they, too, were aware of the stunning fresco beauty backdropping them. Or were they concentrated on their musical scores?
Heading from the apse area to my seat took time: I reveled in the brilliantly-lighted fresco glory, a light we never see during our guided Basilica tours:
As a guide, I am in and out of the Upper Basilica frequently and like all guides, must warn my tour guests “no photography.”
On December 13th – with the magnificent lighting for the concert – this rule was sidelined.
…and I wasn’t the only one, seeking to take advantage of the hiatus, and captivate the splendor:
And then the concert started.
The voices of a children’s choir united with those of men’s choir in uplifting harmony, soaring to the Gothic vaults above the nave. The crescendo of the orchestra’s music swelled forcefully and seemed to reverberate off the frescoed walls and wrap around the clusters of pillars along the nave, a warm mauve that evening due to the televised lighting.
As I listened to the music of choir and full orchestra, I feasted my eyes on the beloved frescoes around me and above me, photographing in full light those near us for the first time.
….including the vault above us with the fresco of St. Jerome, replaced after crumbling in the 1997 earthquake:
Painted from 1297 to 1300, the frescoes adorning the walls of the Upper Basilica had been traditionally attributed to Giotto but now, most art historians recognize the hands of at least three different painters’ workshops in the twenty-eight frescoes illustrating the life of St. Francis.
And in this Basilica at Christmastime, how not to capture the fresco depicting the first crib scene – a “living” cribs scene” – created by St. Francis in Greccio (December, 1223)?
And maybe it was the choral music – seeming to be a “choir of angels” – that focussed me on the frescoed angels, the evening of the concert?
Like the ones in the fresco of the death of St. Francis (October 3, 1226), his soul lifted into Heaven by solemn-faced angels, other angels flanking the group:
In another fresco across the nave, an angel indicated the throne ready for Francesco in Heaven to one of his followers:
…..and in the fresco depicting St. Francis receiving the Stigmata on Mt. LaVerna – one of the most important in this fresco cycle- the fiery six-winged angel, the Seraph, is a key figure:
…..and angels floated over us in many of the frescoes adorning the heavenly vault above.
I often gazed up at them during the concert; the music of the choir and orchestra music seemed to be rolling in powerful waves to the vaults – and those angels.
Read about the fresco restoration following the 1997 earthquake
Read about earthquake restoration in Umbria and in Emilia Romagna
Click here to see the video of the 1997 Assisi earthquake causing the collapse of vault sections in the Upper Basilica of St. Francis
Read about another glorious Christmas concert in the Basilica