A genuine first-hand religious experience ... is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses, the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spread to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy; and when a religion has become an orthodoxy, its days of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live at second hand exclusively and the stone the prophets in their turn.
-- William James
WHEN Saint Francis -- San Francesco -- lay dying, he asked to be moved from the bishop's residence in Assisi to the chapel at the Portiuncula, a distance of about two miles outside the city walls. As they passed the city gates, he bid the friars carrying him to set him down on the road so that he might say a final farewell to the place of his birth. "This town," he began, "has the worst reputation in the whole region as the home of every kind of rogue and scoundrel." Then he begged God to bless the place and to make it the home of all who sincerely honored his name.
The Canticle of the Creatures
Valerie Martin introduces a recording of the famous song composed by Saint Francis, from the CD Saint Francis and the Minstrels of God (1996), featuring the Altramar medieval music ensemble.
A Wonderful New Song
"So he is happy here, in the place they have made for him. Despite his illness, his blindness, the constant pain in his head, he is singing as cheerfully as a morning lark." An additional excerpt from Valerie Martin's Salvation: Scenes From the Life of St. Francis.
According to a contemporary brochure put out by the commune's busy tourist agency, Assisi is a city that cannot just be "seen"; it must be "experienced" as a place, perhaps the place, where "the spirit of St. Francis pervades all." Every year hundreds of thousands of visitors, art lovers, tourists, and pilgrims from all over the world flock to see the famous basilica where the saint is buried. The narrow streets in which Francesco begged for bread are lined with hundreds of shops selling all manner of atrocious trinkets and some of the worst food to be found in Italy, at prices as breathtaking as the view from the Rocca Maggiore, the late-medieval fortress that glowers over the prosperous, crowded town. The spirit that pervades these streets is the same one that whistled down the stone staircases and across the Piazza del Commune in Francesco's lifetime, the same spirit that drove him straight into the outspread arms of Jesus Christ: the cold, relentless, insatiable, furious spirit of commerce.