The San Damiano Cross

The Cross that spoke to St. Francis of Assisi
The San Damiano Cross can be found in every friary, in Franciscan Universities, and in the home of, probably, every Secular Franciscan home in the world.
This cross is a reproduction of the crucifix through which God spoke to Saint Francis of Assisi in the year 1205, saying “Go, Francis, and repair my Church which, as you see, is falling into ruin.” At first Francis misunderstood and proceeded to repair only the San Damiano Chapel, where this crucifix was located. Eventually his acts of poverty, humility and charity brought about repairs to the entire Catholic Church.
The San Damiano Cross is a painting containing images of Christ’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension into glory. Its thematic colors are red and black. Red, the color of Christ’s blood which he shed for us, symbolizes God’s love. Black is the color of death.
The artist left us very little written explanation of his work, just names under the figures standing around the cross. The following interpretation of what his pictures represent is drawn mainly from several descriptions.
The Passion
On the lower part of the cross, near Jesus’ left shin, is a very small picture of a rooster, reminding us of Peter’s denial during Christ’s Passion, and his subsequent repentance and conversion.
“And the Lord said ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith may not fail; and do thou, when once thou has turned again, strengthen thy brethren.’ But he said to him, ‘Lord, with thee I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” But he said, “I tell thee, Peter, a cock will not crow this day, until thou hast denied three times that thou knowest me.” (Luke 22: 31-34) . . . “And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘Before a cock crows, thou wilt deny me three times.’ And Peter went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22: 61-62)
The tiny rooster is a small reminder that if Peter could fail any of us can fail. Of much larger importance is that, like Peter, we should repent after we fail and turn again to the Lord, and by this example lend moral strength and encouragement to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Directly below the rooster is the barely perceptible figure of a person. This may be Saint Peter, looking up at the rooster; or perhaps it is a self portrait of the artist; or perhaps it represents you and me.
The Crucifixion
The square panel below the arms of the cross portrays those present at the crucifixion of Jesus. Under Christ’s right arm the Blessed Virgin Mary stands next to Saint John. Their eyes obey the words Christ spoke to them from the cross: “Woman, behold, thy son” (John 19: 26) and, to John, “Behold, thy mother” (John 19: 27). The blood of salvation falls from the wound in Christ’s side onto John’s mantle. Dressed in scarlet, Mary Magdalene stands in a place of honor next to Christ. Next to her is the other Mary. At the far right stands the Roman Centurion of Capernaum, who, at the crucifixion, voiced his belief in Christ. He holds a piece of wood in his left hand, symbolizing his building of the synagogue (Luke 7: 1-5). The thumb and two fingers of his right hand are raised in a symbol of the Trinity, while the two closed fingers signify the mystery of the two natures of Jesus. Four heads peer over the shoulder of the centurion. Are they the centurion’s servant, healed by Jesus, and soldiers (Luke 7: 6-10)? Or, are they the centurion’s son, healed by Jesus, and household of believers (John 4: 46-54)?
Two minor figures (as indicated by their smaller size) stand at the bottom corners of the crucifixion-scene panel. On our left is the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus’ side with a lance (John 19: 34). On our right is the bystander who offered Jesus a sponge soaked in common wine after Jesus cried out “I thirst” (John 19: 28-29). According to Christian tradition they are named Longinus and Stephaton (or Steven). Drops of Christ’s redeeming blood, dripping from his elbows, bless these witnesses too.
Crucifix Inscription
Above Christ’s head on the cross is the Latin inscription “IHS NAZARE REX IUDEORU” (often abbreviated as “INRI”), meaning “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” (John 19: 19)
Forty Hours Of Death
“He descended into hell; the third day he arose again from the dead;” (Apostles’ Creed). Under Christ’s feet we see the black abyss of the dead, and several haloed figures. These are the souls of holy people who died before Christ and were awaiting Salvation before being admitted into Heaven. Blood pours over them from the wounds in Christ’s feet, signifying their long awaited redemption.
The Resurrection
The central figure of the San Damiano Crucifix is Christ risen from the dead on Easter Sunday morning, clad in a formal loin cloth symbolic of both high priest and victim. He stands upright, no longer hanging from nails. His eyes are open again. His face radiates a calm expression of peace in the knowledge that the price of our redemption is paid. His wounds continue to pour out the blood of his love for us.
On the arms of the cross, behind Christ’s outstretched arms, is a black rectangle representing the empty tomb. The red stripe over the black tomb signifies that the red of God’s Love is victorious over the blackness of death. At either side of the empty tomb stands a saint. These are probably the women who discovered the empty tomb early on Easter morning. Some say the figures are Peter and John, who arrived on the scene later, but Peter is usually portrayed with a beard. Beneath each of Christ’s wrists are two angels in heated discussion. Are they angels at the beginning of time, arguing whether to worship the Son of Man? Is this Lucifer debating Saint Michael?
The Ascension
The rectangular panel at the top of the cross represents heaven.
Emerging from a circle of red and entering heaven we see Jesus, fully robed in garments of gold. In his left hand he carries a golden cross which is his royal scepter and a sign of his victory over death. Choirs of angels welcome Jesus into heaven. Within the red semi-circle at the top of the scene we see the right hand of the Father with two fingers extended in benediction, blessing all that Jesus has done. The hand also symbolizes God maintaining Creation and sending us his Holy Spirit, a gift merited by Christ’s sacrifice.
“… He ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.” (Apostles’ Creed)

The original cross, approximately 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide, is a painting on linen glued to walnut. An unknown artist produced it sometime prior to 1205, the year in which Francis knelt before it in the San Damiano Chapel. The abandoned, neglected and half ruined condition of that chapel in 1205 suggests that the cross may be considerably older. The artist may have been a Syrian monk: the iconography shows a strong Byzantine influence, and local history says there had been Syrian monks in the Assisi area for centuries. In 1257 the followers of Saint Clare of Assisi, the Poor Clares, left San Damiano for San Giorgio and took the Cross with them. They preserved it for seven centuries. In Holy Week of 1957 it went on public view in the Basilica of Saint Clare (Santa Chiara) in Assisi, where it may be seen today.

Saint Francis prayed as follows as he knelt before the crucifix in the San Damiano Chapel:
“All-highest, glorious God, cast your light into the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, firm hope, perfect charity and profound humility, with wisdom and perception, o Lord, so that I may do what is truly your holy will. Amen.”

The Writings of St. Francis

St. Francis (Public Domain Image)

The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi

tr. by Father Pascal Robinson


ContentsStart ReadingPage IndexText [Zipped]

Churches of Umbria

This orientation page links, directly or indirectly, to several hundred churches throwout the region. If this just has the effect of making you feel lost — for example, if you’re planning a first trip to Umbria and are wondering what to see — you should see my “Top 30” : The Essential Churches of Umbria.

Gazetteer of Italy — currently a few hundred mostly non-Roman pages of churches, frescoes, etc. — is my own favorite part of the site. Churches of Italy section, which currently (12/21/09) covers 652 churches in 385 pages and 1457 photos; plus, quite separately, three entire books on the churches of Rome, covering about 900 of them, past and present, in great detail. (The merest drop in a bucket, by the way: Italy’s churches present and past must number at least 500,000.)


The Rule of Saint Francis (1223)

The Rule of St. Francis (of 1223)

Chapter 1. In the name of the Lord begins the life of the Friars Minor

The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without property, and in chastity. Brother Francis promises obedience and reverence to his holiness Pope Honorius and his lawfully elected successors and to the Church of Rome. The other friars are bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors.

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Chapter 2. Of those who wish to take up this life and how they are to be received

If anyone wants to profess our Rule and comes to the friars, they must send him to their provincial minister, because he alone, to the exclusion of others, has permission to receive friars into the Order. The ministers must carefully examine all candidates on the Catholic faith and the sacraments of the Church. If they believe all that the Catholic faith teaches and are prepared to profess it loyally, holding by it steadfastly to the end of their lives, and if they are not married; or if they are married and their wives have already entered a convent or after taking a vow of chastity have by the authority of the bishop of the diocese been granted this permission; and the wives are of such an age that no suspicion can arise concerning them: let the ministers tell them what the holy Gospel says (Mt. 19:21), that they should go and sell all that belongs to them and endeavour to give it to the poor. If they cannot do this, their good will is sufficient.

The friars and their ministers must be careful not to become involved in the temporal affairs of newcomers to the Order, so that they may dispose of their goods freely, as God inspires them. If they ask for advice, the ministers may refer them to some God- fearing persons who can advise them how to distribute their property to the poor.

When this has been done, the ministers should clothe the candidates with the habit of probation, namely, two tunics without a hood, a cord and trousers, and a caperon reaching to the cord, unless the ministers themselves at any time decide that something else is more suitable. After the year of the novitiate, they should be received to obedience, promising to live always according to this life and Rule. It is absolutely forbidden to leave the Order, as his holiness the Pope has laid down. For the Gospel tells us, No one, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Lk. 9:62).

The friars who have already vowed obedience may have one tunic with a hood and those who wish may have another without a hood. Those who are forced by necessity may wear shoes. All the friars are to wear poor clothes and they can use pieces of sackcloth and other material to mend. them, with God’s blessing.

I warn all the friars and exhort them not to condemn or look down on people whom they see wearing soft or gaudy clothes and enjoying luxuries in food or drink; each one should rather condemn and despise himself.

Chapter 3. Of the Divine Office and fasting, and how the friars are to travel about the world

The clerics are to recite the Divine Office according to the rite of the Roman Curia, except the psalter; and so they may have breviaries. The lay brothers are to say twenty-four Our Fathers for Matins and five for Lauds; for Prime, Terce, Sext, and None, for each of these, they are to say seven; for Vespers twelve and for Compline seven. They should also say some prayers for the dead.

All the friars are to fast from the feast of All Saints until Christmas. Those who voluntarily fast for forty days after Epiphany have God’s blessing, because this is the period our Lord sanctified by his holy fast (cf. Mt. 4:2). However, those who do not wish to do so, should not be forced to it. All the friars are bound to keep the Lenten fast before Easter, but they are not bound to fast at other times, except on Fridays. However, in case of manifest necessity, they are not obliged to corporal fasting.

And this is my advice, my counsel, and my earnest plea to my friars in our Lord Jesus Christ that, when they travel about the world, the should not be quarrelsome or take part in disputes with words (cf. 2 Tim. 2:14) or criticize others; but they should be gentle, peaceful, and unassuming, courteous and humble, speaking respectfully to everyone, as is expected of them. They are forbidden to ride on horseback, unless they are forced to it by manifest necessity or sickness. Whatever house they enter, they should first say, “Peace to this house” (Lk. 10:5), and in the words of the Gospel they may eat what is set before them (Lk. 10:8).

Chapter 4. The friars are forbidden to accept money

I strictly forbid all the friars to accept money in any form, either personally or through an intermediary. The ministers and superiors, however, are bound to provide carefully for the needs of the sick and the clothing of the other friars, by having recourse to spiritual friends, while taking into account differences of place, season, or severe climate, as seems best to them in the circumstances. This does not dispense them from the prohibition of receiving money in any form.

Chapter 5. The manner of working

The friars to whom God has given the grace of working should work in a spirit of faith and devotion and avoid idleness, which is the enemy of the soul, without however extinguishing the spirit of prayer and devotion, to which every temporal consideration must be subordinate. As wages for their labour they may accept anything necessary for their temporal needs, for themselves or their brethren, except money in any form. And they should accept it humbly as is expected of those who serve God and strive after the highest poverty.

Chapter 6. That the friars are to appropriate nothing for themselves; on seeking alms; and on the sick friars

The friars are to appropriate nothing for themselves, neither a house, nor a place, nor anything else. As strangers and pilgrims (I Pet. 2:11) in this world, who serve God in poverty and humility, they should beg alms trustingly. And there is no reason why they should be ashamed, because God made himself poor for us in this world. This is the pinnacle of the most exalted poverty, and it is this, my dearest brothers, that has made you heirs and kings of the kingdom of heaven, poor in temporal things, but rich in virtue. This should be your portion, because it leads to the land of the living. And to this poverty, my beloved brothers, you must cling with all your heart, and wish never to have anything else under heaven, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wherever the friars meet one another, they should show that they are members of the same family. And they should have no hesitation in making known their needs to one another. For if a mother loves and cares for her child in the flesh, a friar should certainly love and care for his spiritual brother all the more tenderly. If a friar falls ill, the others are bound to look after him as they would like to be looked. after themselves.

Chapter 7. Of the penance to be imposed on friars who fall into sin

If any of the friars, at the instigation of the enemy, fall into mortal sin, they must have recourse as soon as possible, without delay, to their provincial ministers, if it is a sin for which recourse to them has been prescribed for the friars. If the ministers are priests, they should impose a moderate penance on such friars; if they are not priests, they should see that a penance is imposed by some priest of the Older, as seems best to them before God. They must be careful not to be angry or upset because a friar has fallen into sin, because anger or annoyance in themselves or in others makes it difficult to be charitable.

Chapter 8. The election of the Minister General of the Order and the Pentecost Chapter

The friars are always bound to have a member of the Order as Minister General, who is the servant of the whole fraternity, and they are strictly bound to obey him. At his death the provincial ministers and the custodes are to elect a successor at the Pentecost Chapter, at which the provincial ministers are bound to assemble in the place designated by the Minister General. This chapter should be held once every three years, or at a longer or shorter interval, if the Minister General has so ordained.

If at any time it becomes clear to all the provincial ministers and custodes that the Minister General is incapable of serving the friars and can be of no benefit to them, they who have the power to elect must elect someone else as Minister General.

After the Pentecost Chapter, the provincial ministers and custodes may summon their subjects to a chapter in their own territory once in the same year, if they wish and it seems worthwhile.

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Chapter 9. Of preachers

The friars are forbidden to preach in any diocese if the bishop objects to it. No friar should dare to preach to the people unless he has been examined and approved by the Minister General of the Order and has received from him the commission to preach.

Moreover, I advise and admonish the friars that in their preaching, their words should be examined and chaste. They should aim only at the advantage and spiritual good of their listeners, telling them briefly about vice and virtue, punishment and glory, because our Lord himself kept his words short on earth.

Chapter 10. On admonishing and correcting the friars

The ministers, who are the servants of the other friars, must visit their subjects and admonish them, correcting them humbly and charitably, without commanding them anything that is against their conscience or our Rule. The subjects, however, should remember that they have renounced their own wills for God’s sake. And so I strictly command them to obey their ministers in everything that they have promised God and is not against their conscience and our Rule. The friars who are convinced that they cannot observe the Rule spiritually, wherever they may be, can and must have recourse to their ministers. The ministers, for their part, are bound to receive them kindly and charitably, and be so sympathetic towards them that the friars can speak and deal with them as employers with their servants. That is the way it ought to be; the ministers should be the servants of all the friars.

With all my heart, I beg the friars in our Lord Jesus Christ to be on their guard against pride, boasting, envy, and greed, against the cares and anxieties of this world, against detraction and complaining. Those who are illiterate should not be anxious to study. They should realize instead that the only thing they should desire is to have the spirit of God at work within them, while they pray to him unceasingly with a heart free from self-interest. They must be humble, too, and patient in persecution or illness, loving those who persecute us by blaming us or bringing charges against us, as our Lord tells us, Love. your enemies, pray for those who persecute and calumniate you (Mt. 5:44). Blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:10). He who has persevered to the end will be saved (Mt. 10:22).

Chapter 11. The friars are forbidden to enter the monasteries of nuns

I strictly forbid all the friars to have suspicious relationships or conversations with women. No one may enter the monasteries of nuns, except those who have received special permission from the Apostolic See. They are forbidden to be sponsors of men or women lest scandal arise amongst or concerning the friars.

Chapter 12. Of those who wish to go among the Saracens and other unbelievers

If any of the friars is inspired by God to go among the Saracens or other unbelievers, he must ask permission from his provincial minister. The ministers, for their part, are to give permission only to those whom they see are fit to be sent.

The Ministers, too, are bound to ask the Pope for one of the cardinals of the holy Roman Church to be governor, protector, and corrector of this fraternity, so that we may be utterly subject and submissive to the Church. And so, firmly established in the Catholic faith, we may live always according to the poverty, and the humility, and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we have solemnly promised.

Peace Award Goes to African Water Project

Franciscan Peace Award Goes to African Water Project Leader Don Ryder, a Secular Franciscan who spearheaded a life-saving water project during a drought in Africa, received the National Peace Award from the U.S. Secular Franciscan Order during its annual chapter held Oct. 20-25 in Albuquerque, NM. Ryder, who is director of organizational development and safety for the city of Wausau, WI, co-leads the water project with Romey Wagner, also of Wausau. They raise funds and coordinate the digging of wells to provide clean, fresh water for Maasai tribes in Kenya.

Consider the Secular Franciscans

Have You Ever Felt…
There’s something missing in my life style.
I feel an urge to grow as a person.
I want to do more with my life.
I’m single, married, widowed, …

I don’t want to leave the world for a religious community, and yet I want to grow in my relationship with Christ. Consider the Secular Franciscans

Franciscans strive to live the gospel, in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi. Franciscan come from all walks of life…Laborers, Professionals, Housewives, Executives, Workers, Ordinary Citizens, Managers, Career people, etc. Franciscans meet monthly to replenish themselves spiritually and study God’s way through Saint Francis of Assisi.
Franciscans learn to improve their prayer life, sacramental life, devotional life, …. The WORLD is their arena of activity.

Franciscans reach out to people in need.
Franciscans become involved in parish activities.
Franciscans volunteer services in whatever areas appeals to them.
Franciscans promote family life.
FRANCISCANS are people with desires like YOURS.

How do I Learn About the Franciscan Way of Life?
First one seeks a Fraternity location from your parish priest or from a Secular Franciscan.
You express an interest to learn about the Secular Franciscans.
The Fraternity Welcomes You. You receive information about the Order.
An assigned Franciscan member instructs you once a month.
Remember, You have no obligation to join, just to learn.
Then, if You would like to continue your studies, you are Admitted into the Secular Franciscan Order.
Your information and education about the Order continues at a deeper level.
You also attend meetings where Franciscan topics are presented and discussed.
In time, You are asked whether you want to make a permanent commitment to the Secular Franciscan way of life. If you do, you are Professed into the Secular Franciscan Order. You continue to learn about your Franciscan way of life through monthly meetings.

What are the Obligations?
Nothing binds you under sin except what binds you as a Catholic.

You join in the prayer of the Church by reciting a form of Liturgical prayer, suitable for Secular Franciscans.
You try to attend Mass as often as you can.
You say morning and night prayers.
You say prayers before and after every meal.
You examine your conscience nightly.
You pray for those in need: sick, suffering, dying…
Become an example to others through your life style.
Wear a symbol of your commitment — a “T” shaped Cross.

Attend regular Fraternity meetings…
Participate in prayers & Mass.
Lead a discussion if you wish to.
Contribute to the Fraternity common fund for the missions, unwed mothers, charitable causes, needy, poor…
Try to attend a monthly Holy Hour.
Get to confession if needed, or confess often for the grace of the sacrament.

Secular Franciscans are a Religious Order. It is a vocation to a Way of Life.
You have to be called to serve.
You learn your calling by attending meetings.
You will never know if You are called unless You try.

Is God Calling You to the Secular Franciscan Order?

The process of becoming a professed Secular Franciscan is a journey that involves three separate stages and culminates in a lifelong commitment to live the gospel following the example of St. Francis of Assisi. This formation process unfolds in regularly scheduled formation sessions during which the home study material is thoroughly discussed.

The first stage, Orientation, provides time for dialogue and developing relationships in fraternity. During Orientation you will be introduced to the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare and share in Franciscan prayer life. You will be given general information about the Secular Franciscan Order. Orientation is a time to discern if the Spirit is calling you to a Secular Franciscan vocation. The period of Orientation is a minimum of three months.

The second stage, Inquiry, is the first formal period of initiation. It is a time of in-depth study of the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare. During Inquiry you will learn about the Franciscan charism and Franciscan history. You will deepen your understanding of what it means to be secular and Franciscan, and you will continue to discern if the Spirit is calling you to the Secular Franciscan way of life. The period of Inquiry is a minimum of six months. If a vocation is discerned, the Inquirer is received into the Order.

The third stage, Candidacy, is the final formal period of initiation. It is a time of preparing for permanent commitment by immersion into fraternity life. Central to this stage of formation is Article 4 of The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order which states, “The rule and life of the Secular Franciscan is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following Saint Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.” The period of Candidacy is a minimum of eighteen months and culminates in permanent commitment to the gospel life.

After profession of the Rule and permanent commitment to the gospel way of life, the newly professed member joins the rest of the fraternity in ongoing formation.

Via Flaminia

The Via Flaminia was an ancient Roman road leading from Rome over the Apennine Mountains to Ariminum (Rimini) on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, and due to the ruggedness of the mountains was the major option the Romans had for travel between Etruria, Latium and Campania and the Po Valley. Today the same route, still called by the same name for much of its distance, is paralleled or overlain by Strada Statale (SS) 3, also called Strada Regionale (SR) 3 in Lazio and Umbria, and Strada Provinciale (SP) 3 in Marche. It leaves Rome, does up the Val Tevere (“Valley of the Tiber River“), strikes into the mountains at Castello delle Formische, ascends to Gualdo Tadino, goes over the divide at Scheggia Pass, 575 m (1,886 ft), to Cagli. From there it descends the eastern slope waterways between the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and the Umbrian Apennines to Fano on the coast and goes north parallel to Highway A1 to Rimini.

Hippies and Saint Francis

The hippies like to relate to such ancient figures as Hillel, the 1st century B.C. Jewish prophet of modesty and peace, and of course to Christ (“a groovy cat”). Buddha, they recall proudly, was a dropout from a royal family who later came back to the palace and turned on his father, the king, with nothing more than sincerity and a mendicant’s bowl. St. Francis of Assisi, who left a rich Italian merchant family to live in poverty among the birds and beasts, is another hero, along with Gandhi (for his patient nonviolence), Aldous Huxley (for his praise of hallucinogens in Doors of Perception), and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Hobbits (with their quirky gentleness and hairy toes). Read more

Monastery Stays

Where to Stay in Assisi

St. Anthony’s Guest House – Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement
Via Galeazzo Alessi – 10, 06081 Assisi, Prov. Perugia, Italy
Phone: 011-390-75-812542   Fax: 011-390-75-813723

Read about an experience with religious/convent stays, including St. Anthony’s.

The loveliest convent on my itinerary was St Anthony’s Guesthouse in Assisi – home of St Francis and St Clare – where I spent two weeks. The convent is a former villa dating back to the 12th century, 100 years after the famous saints were alive. It perches on a high point of Assisi, in the central Italian region of Umbria. Umbria is sometimes referred to as the poor person’s Tuscany, but its lack of fame means it still has many of the qualities long lost in its illustrious neighbour. An hour’s drive from Cortona, where Francis Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun was based, Assisi is Umbria’s best-known medieval hilltown. Sitting high on Mount Subasio and facing west, the town is bathed in light and has a mystical quality. Nuns and monks move in shoals around the town. Attractions include the atmospheric Gothic Basilica of St Francis with Giotto and Cimabue’s famous frescoes, which have been restored after the earthquakes in 1997. One Sunday morning a friend and I caught an amazing flag-throwing display by handsome local youths with black ringlets and goatees. They dressed like Robin Hood and expertly flung their huge flags into the bright blue sky to cries of “Bravo!” from the crowd. When I wasn’t improving my fitness navigating the township hills, St Anthony’s convent was an enticing place to relax. It had a library and study stocked with the classics and books on history, travel and spirituality in English and Italian and offered views of the valley below. The Franciscan Sisters who run St Anthony’s hail from a New York-based order so most speak English and put it to good use giving directions to the best restaurants in town. I tried the specialty Umbrian dish of truffled stingozza (spaghetti with truffles), which was so rich and aromatic I needed gulps of fresh air between mouthfuls. St Anthony’s also offered a full home-cooked Italian lunch prepared daily by a local cook, Bruna. The other option was to pick up some bread, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and olives from the sensational Bottega del Bongustaio Alimentari a few doors down from the main piazza, add a bottle of local Chianti, and picnic in the olive groves. On one of many picnics I watched local men and women standing on handmade ladders and harvesting the olives with giant red combs so they fell into gold-coloured nets lying on the grass. One evening as I stood admiring the harvest, an elderly man in a three-piece suit who was chatting to the farmers leaned over and chucked me under the chin. I felt about five years old. As I did when the nuns kissed me lightly on both cheeks and blessed me in Italian by way of good-bye. There are conditions to staying in convents. The nuns mean business with curfew (usually between 10.30 and midnight) and a certain decorous behaviour is expected, given that you are staying in a house of God. But in return you experience a soulful slice of Italian life. And the blessings are nice.


Nostra Signora di Lourdes, Via Sistina 113, Rome; phone (06) 474 5324.

Casa Carbulotto, Santa Croce,

Fondamenta Rizzi 316, Venice; (041) 710 877.

St Anthony’s Guesthouse, Via G Alessi 10, Assisi; (075) 812 542.


Bed and Blessings: A Guide to Convents and Monasteries Available for Overnight Lodging by June and Anne Walsh (Paulist Press) and The Guide to Lodging in Italian Monasteries by Eileen Barish (Anacapa Press) have maps, pictures and descriptions of guesthouses as well as sample reservation forms in English and Italian. They are available in travel bookshops or on the Web. Try or key “Italian convents and monasteries” into your Internet search engine.

Italian Journey by the German poet/philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Under the Tuscan Sun by Francis Mayes give perspectives on Italy written three centuries apart.


A simply furnished room, often with spectacular views, in a prime location that’s easy to find on arrival. Most guesthouses are close to trains, buses and taxis and the locals always know where the convents are. Many have a TV room, communal lounge and garden. Most offer half-board (breakfast and lunch) or at least breakfast. Religious activities such as prayer and mass take place behind closed doors and guests are not expected to participate. Both little and not-so-little children are welcome

The Tau – A Franciscan Cross

The Tau

A Franciscan Cross

By Ken Norian, TSSF

The first recorded reference to the TAU is from Ezekiel 9:4, “Go through the city of Jerusalem and put a TAU on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” The TAU is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and looks very much like the letter “T”.

At the Fourth Lateran Council, on November 11, 1215, Pope Innocent made reference to the TAU and quoted the above verse in reference to the profaning of the Holy Places by the Saracens. It is widely accepted that St. Francis was present at the Fourth Lateran Council and that he heard the words of Pope Innocent III when he said, “The TAU has exactly the same form as the Cross on which our Lord was crucified on Calvary, and only those will be marked with this sign and will obtain mercy who have mortified their flesh and conformed their life to that of the Crucified Savior. From then on, the TAU became Francis’ own coat of arms.

Francis used the TAU in his writings, painted in on the walls and doors of the places where he stayed, and used it as his only signature on his writings.

St. Bonaventure said, “This TAU symbol had all the veneration and all the devotion of the saint: he spoke of it often in order to recommend it, and he traced it on himself before beginning each of his actions.”

Celano, another Franciscan historian writes, “Francis preferred the Tau above all other symbols: he utilized it as his only signature for his letters, and he painted the image of it on the walls of all the places in which he stayed.”

In the famous blessing of Brother Leo, Francis wrote on parchment, “May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord show His face to you and be merciful to you! May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace! God bless you Brother Leo!” Francis sketched a head (of Brother Leo) and then drew the TAU over this portrait.

Due, no doubt, in large part to Francis’ own affection for and devotion to the TAU, it has been a well recognized and accepted Franciscan symbol among Franciscans of various denominations and of all orders within those denominations for centuries. It remains so today. The TAU carries with it all of the symbolism of the Cross of Christ as well as Francis’ ideal of life and dream for himself and his followers.


Englebert, Omer. St. Francis of Assisi. (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1965)
Miller, Tamela, SFO. “The Tau: A Franciscan Symbol”
Vorreux, Damien. Un Symbole Franciscain: Le Tau. (Paris: Editions Franciscaines, 1977)