St. Francis' Assisi Walking Tour (Self Guided), Assisi

A holy city for Christians, Assisi has been an eternal destination of pilgrimage since the 13th century for those venerating Saint Francis and wanting to the see where he was born, worked, died and was buried. As the birthplace of one of Catholicism’s most revered saints (and one of Italy's two saintly patrons), Assisi holds religion very close to its heart.

The entire city-sanctuary – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000 – basks in the coveted status thanks to the plethora of historically significant buildings, such as the Basilica di San Francesco – the jewel in Assisi’s crown, so massive you can see it for miles around.

At some point, when the noise of steps made by the numerous monks in long brown robes and the bands of pilgrims roaming the streets fades and the town gets enveloped in an almost mystical silence, you can feel the true spirit of Saint Francis more intimately. Here are some of the places in Assisi you may wish to include in your own pilgrimage:

San Francesco Birth House – the original place where Saint Francis was born on July 5, 1182.

Cathedral of San Rufino – aka Assisi Cathedral, built atop an old Roman cistern in the 13th century; contains the fountain where both St Francis and St Clare (Chiara) were baptized.

Santa Chiara (Saint Clare) Basilica – dedicated to St Clare, St Francis’s contemporary and founder of the Order of the Poor Clares.

San Damiano Church – a tiny church marking the spot where, according to legend, St Francis first heard the voice of God telling him to “rebuild the church.”

To explore these and other sights relevant, directly or remotely, to the life of Saint Francis in Assisi, take this self-guided walking tour.
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St. Francis' Assisi Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: St. Francis' Assisi Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Assisi (See other walking tours in Assisi)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Author: leticia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi
  • Il Ritorno di Francesco (The Return of Francis) Statue
  • San Francesco Birth House
  • Cathedral of San Rufino
  • Santa Chiara Basilica (Basilica of Saint Clare)
  • San Damiano Church
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Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

1) Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (must see)

Francis died at the age of 44. But two years later, he was canonized in Assisi. On that day, July 16, 1228, Pope Gregory IX blessed the cornerstone of the Basilica and "Mother House" of the Franciscan order. Two years after that, the body of Francis was secretly buried in the unfinished Basilica.

The Basilica dedicated to Saint Francis is actually two churches, one over the other and encircled by two arcades. The churches were designed by Jacopo Tedesco. Actual construction was managed by Brother Elias of Cordona, a follower of San Francis.

The reason for two churches is not clear. The Romanesque Lower Basilica was built on the tomb of Saint Francis in accordance with ancient Christian burial customs. The upper church is supported by the lower church's oversize cross vaults and pilasters.

Saint Francis' body is laid in a sarcophagus under the high altar. The church is decorated with fresoes. In the central nave is one on the life and passion of Saint Francis. There is one on Mary Magdalene by Giotto. Above the altar is a frescoe of the Saint and allegories of poverty, chastity and obedience.

On the presbytery walls is Cimabue's Virgin with child, angels and Saint Francis. On the left wall Giotto has painted the crucifixion. Lorenzetti has depicted the childhood and passion of Christ. Simone Martini has rendered Madonna and child among the saints.

Stairs in the nave lead to the crypt. Here is a plain, unadorned place, lighted by a single oil lamp. Simplicity and austerity were two qualities prized by the saint who lies here.

If the lower church is plain and austere, the upper church is bright and spacious, made for liturgies. It has a nave of four bays and a cross-vault ceiling decorated with gold stars on a blue background. Next to the altar is a papal throne. The choir is provided with 102 wooden stalls with carvings made by Domenico Indovini in 1501.

The upper part of the nave is painted with scenes from the Old Testament and the new testament. In the lower part of the nave are 28 frescoes credited to Giotto. The cuspidate facade has a Gothic portal and a brilliant rose window.

Why you should visit

The spirit of Saint Francis is in every street and every building, but this the heart of Assisi.
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Il Ritorno di Francesco (The Return of Francis) Statue

2) Il Ritorno di Francesco (The Return of Francis) Statue

The Il Ritorno di Francesco ("The Return of Francis") sculpture is a modern-styled equestrian statue of Saint Francis of Assisi. Created by the Italian artist Norberto Proietti in 2005, it stands outside the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The inscription on the bronze plaque features quote from the Leggenda dei tre compagni (Legend of the Three Companions) describing a pivotal moment in the life of Francis:

– Lord, what do you want me to do?
– Go back to your city and you will be told what you must do.
At the break of day, Francis, with his reformed inner self, desired only to conform to the will of God.

During his lifetime Francis had many dreams. One of them prompted him to become a knight and join the papal army. Pursuant to that vision, Francis bought armor and a horse, and embarked on a voyage to Rome.

At some point along the way, he stopped for a night in Spoleto where he had another dream in which God spoke to him and asked what he was doing. He told Francis of the need to serve God and not the army.

Needless to say, the would-be knight feared the prospect of riding back to Assisi where he might face the family's scorn for cowardice, leaving the army and evading the dangers of battles. One can easily read the emotions of an idealistic youth – his hopes and dreams shattered. The statue depicts the future saint in a humble state, predating his becoming a monk – slumped down in his saddle with his head and shoulders drooping, and his low spirits well echoed in the horse.
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San Francesco Birth House

3) San Francesco Birth House

Casa Natale di San Francesco is the original home in which the future Saint Francis of Assisi, prominent Italian deacon and setter of the Italian literary tradition, was born on July 5, 1182.

According to legend, the birthplace of St. Francis was once a stable, housing oxen and donkeys, and it was here that his mother found refuge to give birth. Attesting to this is the inscription above the pointed arch entry. The property was transformed into an oratory and first documented in 1286.

A Romanesque arch, into which a Gothic entry portal is placed, dominates the façade. Upon entering this place of worship, especially after having visited all the other big churches with huge crowds of tourists, one can't help noticing the humble, spartan interior: benches lining the walls, and the traces of 13th-14th century frescoes above the raised altar.

Outside, in a lovely, intimate square there is a modern bronze sculpture of Francesco's parents: father, Pietro di Bernardone dei Moriconi, and a French mother, Pica de Bourlemont. Overlooking the square is an imposing 17th-century Chiesa Nuova (New Church) with a solemn and monumental façade, typical of Renaissance tradition. This church was built in 1615 on the site of the presumed paternal home of St Francis.

Inside, near the first pillar, on the left, you can see the room where Francesco's father, a prosperous silk merchant, is said to have once chained his young rebellious son in a bid to distract him from living as a penitent and dedicated to the poor, and hoping to bring him back to the paternal profession of commerce. Ultimately, Francesco was released by his mother who understood her son's aspiration to the higher values than the selfish quest for wealth pursued by his father.
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Cathedral of San Rufino

4) Cathedral of San Rufino (must see)

Seven people of Assisi were in a tug-of-war with sixty of Bishop Ugone's men over the body of Saint Rufino. The bishop had sought to move the body to Santa Maria Maggiore. The people won. Ugone knew a miracle when he saw one. He rebuilt the Duomo of Rufino and called it a cathedral.

Rufino was the bishop of Amaziah, Turkey. He arrived in Assisi in the 3rd century. He began preaching. He was quickly arrested, a stone was put around his neck and he was drowned in the Chiascio River.

Ugone wanted to rebuild the the little basilica that held the bones of Rufino. This renovation was started in 1140 and it was consecrated by Pope Innocent IV 100 years later.

The square before the church is laid out to create an enlarged perspective of the plain facade. There are three doors with sculptures of lions and griffins. The bas-relief over the doorway shows Christ on a throne, the Madonna and St Rufino.

In the middle of the facade are three rose windows with evangelical symbols around the center window. To the left of the facade is the soaring bell tower, at its base an intact Roman cistern.

Inside are ten altars with statues of the prophets. The chapel of the Blessed Sacrament on the right is Baroque. In the apse is a wooden choir from 1520 and a 19th century organ.

In the crypt, by the high altar, is a 3rd century sarcophagus holding relics of San Rufino.
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Santa Chiara Basilica (Basilica of Saint Clare)

5) Santa Chiara Basilica (Basilica of Saint Clare) (must see)

Saint Clare died in Assisi in 1253. Church fathers were so impressed with her sanctity she was canonized in 1255. She was laid to rest in the chapel of Saint George.

In 1260 her body was taken to the new Basilica of Saint Clare and buried under the high altar.

In 1850 the tomb was opened and the remains recovered and later the body was ceremoniously transferred to a newly completed shrine within the crypt of the Basilica.

The facade of the Basilica is of horizontal bands of white and pink stone. There is a single wheel-like rose window and a single doorway with an arch above the tympanum. Sculpted lions are on each side of the doorway. The building is supported by oversized flying buttresses.

On the south side of the nave there is the oratory of the crucifix, a chapel that holds the 12th century crucifix said to have spoken to Saint Francis urging him to repair and reform the church.

Go down a passageway into the neo-Gothic crypt. In the shrine one can see the body of Saint Clare. She lies at the east end. At the other end of the shrine are relics of both Francis and Clare.
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San Damiano Church

6) San Damiano Church (must see)

San Damiano was the first monastery of the Order of Saint Clare. It is a church with the appearance of a hut. There is a short portico and three round arcades supported by brick pillars. There is a rose window. The interior has one nave with ogival vaults.

Tradition holds that St Francis, while praying in the church in 1205, heard a voice from the crucifix saying, "Francis, go and repair my church which, as you see, is all in ruins!" Francis at once acted to repair the dilapidated San Damiano Church. It wasn't until later that he realized the church to be repaired was the institution itself.

The crucifix which is thought to have spoken to St Francis is currently hanging in the Basilica of St Clare, in Assisi.

The San Damiano Church was in existence as early as 1030. It was a property of the Benedictine Fathers. How well Francis rebuilt San Damiano Church and the Porziucola is not known. All that is known is that the original church had only one nave and a raised chancel.

The church now has a single nave and apse covered with frescoes of San Damiano, Saint Rufinus, Jesus and the Madonna. There is also a wood choir made in the 14th century. Above the apse is a copy of the crucifix that spoke to St Francis.

Walking Tours in Assisi, Italy

Create Your Own Walk in Assisi

Create Your Own Walk in Assisi

Creating your own self-guided walk in Assisi is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Assisi Introduction Walking Tour

Assisi Introduction Walking Tour

Assisi is located on the western slope of Mount Subasio. It is 1,300 feet above sea level, overlooking the rivers Topino and Chiasicio. It is a walled city with narrow, twisting streets and alleys. It originally was known as Assisium. Successively Umbrian, Etruscan and Roman, it became a Ghibelline commune in the 11th century.

There were clashes with Guelph Perugia. In the battle of...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles