Tomorrow (August 4), Pope Francis will visit Umbria, with the particular destination of the Porziuncola (or Portiuncula), a small chapel standing within a huge church, Santa Maria degli Angeli, which in turns stands at the base of the hill on which Assisi is built.
(If you ever go to Assisi and arrive by train, your station is at Santa Maria degli Angeli, and you then take some other means to get up the hill.)
The occasion is – a couple of days late – the 800th anniversary of the “Pardon of Assisi.”
Having prayed and meditated and discovered his vocation here in 1209, St. Francis founded the Friars Minor and eventually obtained the chapel from the Benedictines as a gift to be the center of his new Order.
Here, on March 28, 1211, Clare, the daughter of one Favarone di Offreduccio received the habit of the Poor Clares from Francis, thus instituting that Order.
And now we come to 1216 when St.Francis, in a vision, obtained what is know as the Pardon of Assisi or Indulgence of the Porziuncola (also written Portiuncula), approved by Pope Honorius III. This special day runs from Vespers on August 1 to sundown of August 2.
According to the official Porziuncola website, one night in 1216 Francis was immersed in prayer when suddenly the chapel was filled with a powerful light, and he saw Christ and His Holy Mother above the altar, surrounded by a multitude of angels.
They asked him what he wanted to be able to save souls and Francis’ answer was immediate: “I ask that all those who, having repented and confessed, will come to visit this church will obtain full and generous pardon with a complete remission of guilt.”
The Lord then said to Francis: “What you ask, Brother Francis, is great but you are worthy of greater things and greater things you will have. I thus accept your prayer, but on the understanding that you ask my vicar on earth, in my name, for this indulgence.”
Francis immediately went to Pope Honorius who listened attentively and gave his approval. To the question, “Francis, for how many years do you wish this indulgence?” the saint replied: “Holy Father, I do not ask for years, but for souls.”
And thus, on August 2, 1216, together with the bishops of Umbria, he announced to the people gathered at the Porziuncula: “My brothers, I want to send all of you to Heaven.”
Francis gathered his brother Franciscans here every year in a general chapter to discuss the Rule of the Order, to be renewed in their work and to awaken in themselves a new fervor in bringing the Gospel to the world.
” He was at that time dwelling in the palace of the Bishop of Assisi, and therefore he asked the brethren to carry him with all speed to the “place” of St. Maria de Portiuncula, for he wished to give back his soul to God there, where (as has been said) he first knew the way of the truth perfectly….
…Then, for that he was about to become dust and ashes, he bade that he should be laid on sackcloth and sprinkled with ashes. All the brethren (whose father and leader he was) came together, and, as they stood reverently by and awaited his blessed departure and happy consummation, his most holy soul was released from the flesh and absorbed into the abyss of light, and his body fell asleep in the Lord. But one of his brethren and disciples, a man of no small fame, whose name I think it right to suppress now because while he lives in the flesh he chooses not to glory in such an announcement, saw the soul of the most holy father ascending over many waters in a straight course to heaven, and his soul was as it were a star having in some sort the bigness of the moon and possessing somewhat of the brightness of the sun, and borne up by a little white cloud.
It is also the spot where, according to her Spiritual Autobiography, Simone Weil prayed for the first time. From John Paul II’s letter on the occasion of the re-opening of the Porziuncola after the 1996 earthquake.
The little church of the Porziuncola preserves and hands on a message and a special grace deriving from the actual experiences of the Poverello of Assisi. Message and grace still continue, and form a powerful summons to any who will allow themselves to be drawn by his example. This is borne out by the witness of Simone Weil, a daughter of Israel who fell under the spell of Christ: “Alone in the tiny romanesque chapel of St Mary of the Angels, a unique wonder of purity in which Francis had often prayed, I experienced a force greater than myself that drove me, for the first time in my life, to my knees”
The Porziuncola plays a part, naturally, in Adventures in Assisi. It provides a climax of sorts, in the story in which the two children have walked in the footsteps of St. Francis, both literally and spiritually, having learned some lessons about humility and poverty of spirit.
Ann found it a challenge to do a painting in which the scale of the small chapel in the huge basilica was evident, but still include the children. But I think she did a great job!
Remember, if you would like to order this book from me – you can go here. Perhaps it would be a good gift for you local Catholic classroom??