Assisi, the Basilica of San Francesco 
and other Franciscan Sites (2000)

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Italy 1999. Reopening of the Superior Basilica of St. Francesco, Assisi.

Assisi, a medieval city built on a hill, is the birthplace of Saint Francis, closely associated with the work of the Franciscan Order. Its medieval art masterpieces, such as the Basilica of San Francesco and paintings by Cimabue, Pietro Lorenzetti, Simone Martini and Giotto, have made Assisi a fundamental reference point for the development of Italian and European art and architecture.

  • Italy 1999. Reopening of the Superior Basilica of St. Francesco, Assisi. 

Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was an Italian mystic and preacher, who founded the Franciscans. Born in Assisi, Italy and originally named Giovanni Francesco Bernardone, he appears to have received little formal education, even though his father was a wealthy merchant. As a young man, Francis led a worldly, carefree life. Following a battle between Assisi and Perugia, he was held captive in Perugia for over a year. While imprisoned, he suffered a severe illness during which he resolved to alter his way of life. Back in Assisi in 1205, he performed charities among the lepers and began working on the restoration of dilapidated churches. Francisís change of character and his expenditures for charity angered his father, who legally disinherited him. Francis then discarded his rich garments for a bishopís cloak and devoted the next three years to the care of outcasts and lepers in the woods of Mount Subasio.

For his devotions on Mount Subasio, Francis restored the ruined chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli. In 1208, one day during Mass, he heard a call telling him to go out into the world and, according to the text of Matthew 10:5-14, to possess nothing, but to do good everywhere.

Italy 1987. Giotto. Christmas Stamp. Fresco from the Basilica San Francesco. The Vatican 1993. Giotto. Se-tenant set commemmorating Franz of Assisi.

Upon returning to Assisi that same year, Francis began preaching. He gathered round him the 12 disciples who became the original brothers of his order, later called the First Order; they elected Francis superior. In 1212 he received a young, well-born nun of Assisi, Clare, into Franciscan fellowship; through her was established the Order of the Poor Ladies (the Poor Clares), later the Second Order of Franciscans. It was probably later in 1212 that Francis set out for the Holy Land, but a shipwreck forced him to return. Other difficulties prevented him from accomplishing much missionary work when he went to Spain to preach to the Moors. In 1219 he was in Egypt, where he succeeded in preaching to, but not in converting, the sultan. Francis then went on to the Holy Land, staying there until 1220. He wished to be martyred and rejoiced upon hearing that five Franciscan friars had been killed in Morocco while carrying out their duties. On his return home he found dissension in the ranks of the friars and resigned as superior, spending the next few years in planning what became the Third Order of Franciscans, the tertiaries.

In September 1224, after 40 days of fasting, Francis was praying upon Monte Alverno when he felt pain mingled with joy, and the marks of the crucifixion of Christ, the stigmata, appeared on his body. Accounts of the appearance of these marks differ, but it seems probable that they were knobby protuberances of the flesh, resembling the heads of nails. Francis was carried back to Assisi, where his remaining years were marked by physical pain and almost total blindness. He was canonized in 1228. In 1980, Pope John Paul II proclaimed him the patron saint of ecologists. In art, the emblems of St. Francis are the wolf, the lamb, the fish, birds, and the stigmata. His feast day is October 4.

Sources and links:

Other World Heritage Sites in Italy (on this site). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section Italy for further information about such sites. 

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Revised 01 aug 2006  
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