The biggest and most famous attraction of Assisi is undoubtedly the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, who is also buried here. It is divided into a Basilica Inferiore and a Basilica Superiore. This mother church of the Franciscans is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Contrary to what one would expect, it is not the Cathedral of the city.
Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi
Address, opening hours and entrance fee
Address: Piazza San Francesco, 2 – 06081 Assisi. Telephone: +39 075819001. Opening Hours: Easter to November: Weekdays from 06.30 till 18.50, Sundays and public holidays from 06.30 till 19.15. From November to Easter: From 06.30 till 18.00. (NB: The Basilica Superiore opens two hours later). Entrance fee: Free of charge. (NB: When visiting the basilica you must be cleanly dressed. You are also not allowed to talk or take pictures).
(NB: Due to the Covid crisis the opening hours may differ from the ones indicated here).
History and description
Construction of the basilica began two years after St Francis‘ death. On 29 March 1228, Simone di Pucciarello donated the summit of the Colle dell’Inferno, where death-row inmates were executed, to Pope Gregory IX. The Pope passed it on to the Order of Brother Elias (the successor of Saint Francis) and the “Hill of Hell” was immediately renamed “Hill of Heaven” (Colle del Paradiso). This is where, according to the wishes of Saint Francis himself, the great Abbey was built.
The Basilica is divided into the Basilica Superiore and the Basilica Inferiore. The (Gothic) Basilica Superiore is, as the name indicates, built on top of the (Romanesque) Basilica Inferiore. However, the same type of pink stone from Monte Subasio was used for it.
The Basilica Inferiore is a monumental crypt dedicated to the pilgrims and to the relics of the saint, while the upper part was used to hold official meetings. Here there is also a throne reserved for the Pope.
The construction of the Basilica Superiore took place under the influence of a number of French friars who succeeded Brother Elijah in 1239 as leaders of the Order.
The lower part is connected to the upper part by a staircase in the left transept.
Brother Elias himself oversaw the construction of the Basilica Inferiore, built in the “romanico lombardo” style, with one nave and a wide transept.
Pope Innocenzo IV consecrated the basilica in 1253.
In the Basilica Inferiore there is a room with relics of St. Francis, as well as the Museo del Tesoro.
Works of art
The most famous artists who embellished the interior with frescoes are Cimabue and Giotto (with a whole series of 28 frescoes under the umbrella title “Events from the Life of Saint Francis”.
The frescoes in the transept and in the right nave depict scenes from the New and Old Testament and were painted by lesser-known craftsmen.
Paintings can also be seen on the vaults of the transept and the nave.
The most famous chapel is the chapel of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria.
Saint Francis has been buried in the Basilica Inferiore from 1230 onward. Until 1400 he lay in a niche under the central altar, but after that his body was hidden because people feared it would be taken to Perugia. It was so well hidden that it was not recovered until 1818.
At the moment his remains are kept in the small crypt under the central altar of the basilica. On the four corners of this crypt are the bodies of the Blessed Brothers Angelo, Leone (who was St Francis’ confessor), Masseo da Marignano and Rufino.
The 1997 earthquake caused a great deal of damage, particularly to the transept of the Basilica Superiore, which had to remain closed for no less than two years.