Reflection on the Hill of Hell

July 23, 2015 / Local Interest
Assisi, Umbria

At the base of a mountain upon which is perched the ancient city of Assisi one sees what in olden times was referred to as the Colle d’Inferno (Hill of Hell). So named, for this place was the site of refuse that came from the city of Assisi as well as the place where public executions were carried out.

That was all to change when in 1228, at the behest of the Pope Gregory IX, a church was commissioned to be built on this site to the honor and memory of St. Francis of Assisi. The construction was to be supervised by Brother Elias of Cortona, one of the first to become a follower of St. Francis. Brother Elias assembled some of the greatest artists of the day, Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini, and Pietro Lorenzetti to paint scenes that illustrated key moments in the lives of Christ and St. Francis.


It’s true, consternation was expressed for choosing such a hideous site to build a church to the memory of the Il Poverello, as Francis was known. How could such a place, a place of death and filth, ever be suitable to erect a monument to St. Francis? What were they thinking? Have they no sense of bella figura: that which is proper and fitting, acceptable and correct.


Yet, working at a fever pitch, what is now known as the Basilica Inferiore was completed within two years. And on Pentecost Sunday, May 25, 1230, the solemn rites took place, the magnificent bells of the Basilica peeled and reverberated throughout the Umbrian valley. The remains of St. Francis were carried in solemn procession – clergy and people of the region, young and old, rich and poor, nobles and peasants – from San Giorgio (what today is the Basilica of St. Clare) to their final resting place within the Basilica Inferiore. The transformation was complete. As the grace of conversion that transformed the playboy Francis into the great saint who became the Herald of the Great King, so once again the grace of conversion effected a change no one could predict. What once was acknowledged as the Hill of Hell now became for all eternity the Colle del Paradiso (Hill of Paradise).

This note is courtesy of Tom Hartle, a resident of New Jersey. A seeker and a wanderer; a lover of life and a person who has a passion for new adventures. “We are not here for a long time – – – we are here for a good time.”


by Tom Hartle

Tom is a resident of New Jersey. A seeker and a wanderer; a lover of life and a person who has a passion for new adventures. “We are not here for a long time – – – we are here for a good time.”

15 Responses to “Reflection on the Hill of Hell”

  1. Janice Peters

    What an amazing story–keep up the terrific work while educating those of us who never tire of learning and life in Italy! Grazie Mille,

    Janice Peters

    • Many thanks. I love Assisi and like you never tire of visiting Assisi and discovering new insights and facts about that mystical city.

  2. Anne Robichaud

    Tom, glad you wrote about our Assisi but was a most elegant city with major monuments – S. Maria Maggiore, San Pietro, San Damiano, San Rufino, San Giorgio (as mentioned – parish church of San Francesco) – even before the Basilica was built. Also, Frate Elia was no longer Minister General as of 1239 (died 1253 in Cortona long before Giotto, Cimabue, Simone Martini, Lorenzetti frescoed in the Basilica ( artists commissioned at different times by various Popes) –
    But do agree, yes, certainly Assisi is our “Colle del Paradiso”!

    • Hi Anne,
      Thank you for your comment. I have had the opportunity to visit St. Francis in Cortona where Elias is laid to rest. I believe Elias was general from 1232 until 1239. Do you know if there is any truth to the rumor I have heard spoken that: A: Elias had a “laboratory somewhere in the bowels of either the Basilica or the Sacro Convento where he carried out experiments in alchemy? and B: there is a passageway that leads from the Basilica to the Rocca Maggiore? I’ve heard that both of these existed at one time. Thanks. Peace. Tom

  3. Victoria De Maio

    Grazie, Tom!
    I love the story behind so many iconic sites and monuments – it gives them even more character and makes it all so much richer and more interesting. I look forward to returning to lovely Assisi in fall and will be sure to share this story.

    • Dear Victoria,

      Thank you. I hope to visit Assisi in late October. Would be great if we are there at the same time.

  4. Maryanne Maggio Hanisch

    Beautiful, Tom! We hope to be a part of one of your retreats sooner rather than later!

  5. Rosemary Johnson

    Great story! I will never forget seeing Assisi this past Easter.

  6. Dear Mary, Thank you. And thank you for noting that bells peal! I did not catch that when I proofed read my reflection. Good eye. You must be an English teacher.

  7. I visited Italy in 1999, and Assisi was on my list of travels. I stayed at L’Ostello Della Pace in Assisi, Italy‎. I am from San Francisco, CA. Beniamino B. Bufano was s popular sculptor here who reverently sculptured a figure of St. Francis. Here is a link to the story of Benny Bufano and the sculpture of St Francis at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.


Leave a Reply