When Father Dave Concepcion of Catholic Travel first organized a visit to the Marian apparition sites in Italy, France and Portugal, he threw in more spiritual and religious sites that heightened our interest plus of course filling us with delight.
In Italy, Father Dave included a visit to the region of Umbria and the charming town of Assisi, famous for its association with Saint Francis of Assisi. Our bus had to navigate the narrow streets filled with ancient buildings and alcoves and corners of interest for first-time pilgrims like us.
The center of activities was the Santa Maria degli Angeli, one of the largest Christian sanctuaries in the world. Part of this sanctuary is the original stone chapel, called the Porziuncola, which is where St. Francis lived and worked after founding the Franciscan Order. It is also where he had his vision in 1216, during which he witnessed the Virgin Mary. Following this vision, the church attracted many pilgrims, and thus the great Baroque church was also built.
Outside the basilica is the Roselo, or Rose Garden. Here, you will find a very special type of rose: one without any thorns. Unbelievable!
The legend said that Saint Francis was being besieged by the devil leaving him feeling inadequate and insecure about his faith and piety. He threw himself naked amongst the thorn bushes thinking that if the thorns will do its job and hurt him and make him suffer, the doubts and temptation will go away. It is then said that on contact with the Saint’s body, thorn-less roses began to bloom, and they still do to this day.
After hearing this story, we all tried to get a good view of the rose garden and snap photos of it. Not easy, for an amateur brownie like me. I decided to rest the lens of my camera on the glass and snapped photos without using the flash.
These special flowers can only be found in this particular rose garden, and are named Rosa Canina Assisiensis. On the wall of the courtyard you can see a mural of St. Francis, surrounded by the modest Porziuncola chapel, olive groves and the thornless red roses. There is also a bronze statue of St. Francis with his hand resting on a sheep, seemingly talking and soothing its anxiety. I thought it was a gentle image of St. Francis and Christ, the sacrificial lamb.
If you chance to be in Italy, include the Porziuncola in Assisi and don’t miss the thornless rose garden of Saint Francis of Assisi.
By the way, no one is allowed to throw oneself on it, anymore.