The beautiful town of Assisi in Umbria is utterly identified with a merchant’s son, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernadone, better known as Saint Francis, who founded three religious orders. Though not ordained a priest, Francis set out to preach repentance and gathered a small band of followers, taking them with him to Rome in 1209 to ask permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new order. The Pope was at first reluctant to endorse preaching that so emphasised poverty; after all, Waldensian teachings on the subject for the previous thirty years or so set that group on a collision course with the papacy and would ultimately brand them heretics. Nonetheless Francis received the papal go ahead and his order of Friars Minor was founded. The Franciscan movement grew and spread exponentially within a short span of years. His philosophy of poverty, peace and tolerance continues to inspire, while his joyful understanding of the natural world resonates with today’s environmentalists.
Francis died in 1226. He was canonised two years later and his tomb is in the glorious Basilica in his home town. In 2000 UNESCO declared this double church (upper and lower being separately consecrated), together with other Franciscan locations nearby, a World Heritage Site.
Assisi’s position, perched upon the slopes of Mount Subasio, affords ravishing views of the surrounding countryside. You might join the many who come to see the Basilica and wander the streets of the town – but do spend some time contemplating the green landscape, as Francis and his followers must have done, all those centuries ago.