TBT: A Very Special Experience in Assisi

Basilica of San Francesco
Basilica of San Francesco

This edition of Throwback Thursday takes us to the year 2007.  We were living in Costa Rica at the time and that year for our annual pilgrimage abroad we chose Italy.  Assisi, Bologna, Perugia and Torino to be exact.  And what a pilgrimage it was. And what better place is there for a pilgrimage than Assisi.

Religious pilgrims have been coming to Assisi for centuries to visit the the tomb of St. Francis in the Basilica of San Francesco as well as the the Basilica of Santa Chiara to see the tomb of St. Clare.  Both are must sees for any visit to Assisi.  We’d like to share a very special experience we had visiting this historic town.

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A stunning view in Assisi.
A stunning view in Assisi.

During the planning of our trip to Italy this summer, many people  advised us that 3 days in Assisi was way to much time to spend there. But since our hotel was already booked, we tried to find interesting day trips to occupy our time. Unfortunately, or so we thought, we soon realized all the places or things we wanted to see or do were inconvenient without a car.

Instead of stewing over our error in planning, we decided to just suck it up and spend a few leisurely days exploring Assisi. As it turned out, this was a great decision on our part.

While Assisi is known as a small Umbrian town and is most famous thanks to St Francis, Italy’s premier saint and founder of the Franciscan order, there is a great deal more to see. Granted, the majority of the sites do revolve around the religious order of St. Francis, but there are also a few other gems worth exploring.

We discovered one of these gems on our last full day in Assisi. The weather turned out to be a bit dreary that day, as the skies looked as though they might open up at any moment. As such, we decided we would stay a bit closer to home on our walk that morning. Leaving our hotel we took a different route than we had on prior mornings to check out “what was in our own backyard”.

After just a few quick turns from our hotel, we stumbled upon the Santa Maria delle Rose Church. Just a short walk from one of the major attractions in Assisi, the Duomo de San Rufino, Santa Maria delle Rose Church was tucked away on a side street away from those larger thoroughfares that are usually clogged with tourists. “Oh, what a surprise!” we thought, “Another church.”

We had found no information about this church in any of the literature we had collected, nor was it listed on any of our maps. But as the clouds got darker and darker we decided to check it out, if only for the shelter.

Art exhibit by Guido Dettoni della Grazia.
Art exhibit by Guido Dettoni della Grazia.

What we found when we got inside was a real surprise. This 16th century church is no longer used for services, but has instead been renovated to permanently display an amazing art exhibit by Guido Dettoni della Grazia containing numerous sculptures relating to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Upon entering the church you see an exhibition of 33 identical hand-sized wooden statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, each carved from a different type of the worlds wood, one for each of the 33 years that Jesus Christ spent on this earth. Prominently displayed atop tall glass cylinders, the 33 statues are arranged in the shape of an Alpha inside an Omega on the Church’s floor.

Hand held versions.
Hand held versions.

Encouraging this exhibit to become an interactive experience, the artist has also created a ceramic version of the statue for all visitors to grasp and admire. This hand-held version fits perfectly in the cup of your hands. And, while maneuvering it and viewing it in different angles, you observe significant moments of Mary’s life. The sculpture actually takes on different images from different angles.

One angle shows Mary genuflecting as she receives the Annunciation. The rest show her carrying the pitcher to the well, expecting, as Mother and Child, and finally, seen from a horizontal perspective, she becomes the Dove of Peace.

Museum4BAccording to the official website of the artist and the exhibit, “We can hold it within us in a gesture of spiritual absorption, living the sensory experience the author presents to us through his installation.”

We could not believe we had not heard about this extraordinary exhibit beforehand. We were the only people inside the church for most of our visit and therefore had both the exhibit and the very knowledgeable curator, Mary Preziotti, at our personal disposal. And what a wealth of knowledge she was. She told us about the history of the exhibit, details about the artist (also available on the exhibit web site), and information about Assisi from someone in the know, as she is married to a local and has lived there for many years raising her family. It turns out she was also my exact age and grew up just a few towns over from me in New Jersey. What a small world!!

Modern Day Franciscan Monks.
Modern Day Franciscan Monks.

Definitely a must see when visiting Assisi!!  And don’t forget about the Franciscan Monks.  Here are a few we ran into a few times during  our visit.

ASSISI – Italy
Free entrance
Opening hours:(10am-1pm / 3:30pm-6:30pm)
Contact Tel. No.: (+39) 335 6311674

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