Anne's Blog

In Assisi, St. Francis Basilica in Full Glory (Rarely)

Date: January 15, 2020 - categories: , , , - 12 Comments

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


  • Laura Rehrmann says:

    Thank you for sharing these fantastic photos. I wish you a joyous 2020 with full remission continued. Love, Laura

  • Janet Eidem says:

    What a beautiful and indeed rare night you had in San Francesco. Such beauty was not even apparent in 1300. I hope to see you in October this year. Working on plans with fingers crossed.

  • Louise Lockwood says:

    Spectacular!!! How fortunate you and Pino are to be invited to this marvelous splendor. Thank you for sharing. Now we are all fortunate to view these gorgeous photos and appreciate the Basilica at Christmas. Love how you describe your experience. Thank you for taking time to share such extraordinary beauty.

  • Barbara Felsecker says:

    Thank you Anne, for sharing your pictures of this glorious experience-just breathtaking! I still remember vividly the days we spent with you when we visited magical Assisi several years ago. I had been to Assisi many times before with my high school students but this time it was a very special visit as I was introducing my husband for the first time to the country I love so much-Italy!! Someday we’d love to come back! ??

  • Dolores Nangle says:

    Your descriptive accompaniment to the wonderful photos made me feel like I was almost there with you. Those photos will join my trip photos because as you said you can’t photo the inside of the Bascilica. What a treat it is to look at the frescoes and remember staring at them in wonder while I was there. It is an amazing insight you gave us to this holy place that is being beautifully restored. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Dolores

  • Judy Bates says:

    Dear Annie, this is so incredibly beautiful and moving. I can almost hear the music, choirs of angels. It looks like I imagine heaven and your descriptions are wonderful. Thank you as always for sharing Assisi as only a local with the love you have in your heart for it can. Looking so forward to seeing you soon. Love to you and yours!

  • Laura, thanks much for your note..and on we roll.
    All good!

  • Louise, yes an extraordinary note – and si! how lucky we were to attend!

  • Dolores, yes, so emotional to be able to photograph the wonders. Bellissimo!

  • Barbara, yes, you are DUE for a return to Assisi!

  • Judy, so glad you will soon see the wonders again – May will be here soon!

  • Janet, October will be here soon and we’ll head to the Basilica again to see the wonders together.

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