Anne's Blog

Lighting Up for an Assisi Christmas

Date: December 12, 2020 - categories: - Leave your thoughts

On this December 7th at nightfall, we weren’t able to gather around the towering blazing bonfire – il focaraccio (literally, “big ugly fire”) – up at Assisi’s 14th-c. fortress, la Rocca Maggiore.  

Due to COVID, the traditional Dec. 7th grouping together to chat over roasted chestnuts and hot mulled wine was canceled. Here’s a group with paper cones of roasted chestnuts in 2019:

….and others lined up for wine and chestnuts, offered by volunteers:

According to legend, that raging bonfire on the night of December 7th is not just for roasting chestnuts – but to light the way for the angels flying in the Blessed Virgin’s house from Nazareth to Loreto, south of Umbria in the Marches region.

La Casa Santa (“Sacred House”) is now in the Basilica di Loreto….

….in the Santuario della Casa Santa.   A tall marble screen designed by Bramante in the 16th-c surrounds the Sacred House.

(A curiosity: as Our Lady of Loreto is the patroness of aviators, Lindbergh took a Loreto statuette with him on his flight across the Atlantic, and  a Loreto medallion was on the Apollo 9  flight to the moon.)

Looking down from the Rocca Maggiore fortress where the bonfire has always been lit each December 7th – though not this year – you can see the Cathedral of San Rufino flanked by its bell tower (on the left in the photo below) and the spire rising behind  the Basilica di Santa Chiara (on the right):

This year on December 7th, the Rocca Maggiore was illuminated although there was no bonfire, no gathering together of the locals.

But there was a surprise for all the assisani – and visitors, too – on December 8th,  the Feast of the Immaculate Conception:  the Archangel Gabriel blessed the Virgin  in the Annunciation scene depicted in the piazza in front of the 12th-c Romanesque Cathedral of San Rufino. That scene was illuminated on the Cathedral facade – and will be visible each night until January 6th.


Assisi’s COVID holiday season is a muted one – but a luminous one.

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