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knighthood, is recorded the legend of how "as he went to the church on
a certain day, meeting a poor man naked, he gave him his inner robe,
and covered himself as he best might with his cope. And the
archdeacon, indignant, offering him a short and narrow vestment, he
received it humbly, and went up to celebrate mass. And a globe of fire
appeared above his head, and when he elevated the host, his arms being
exposed by the shortness of the sleeves, they were miraculously
covered with chains of gold and silver, suspended on them by

The next picture, which is very ruined, represents the visit of St.
Martin to the Emperor Valentinian, who, because he had rudely kept his
seat in his presence, suddenly found it to be on fire, and, as the
legend says, "he burnt that part of his body upon which he sat,
whereupon, being compelled to rise, contrite and ashamed, he embraced
Martin, and granted all that he required of him."

Above this is the death of St. Martin, with a graceful flight of
angels hovering over the bier singing as they prepare to carry his
soul to heaven. Very fine is the fresco in the lunette of the
entrance, where Cardinal Gentile, in his franciscan habit, is kneeling
before the saint who bends forward to raise him from so humble a
position. But in the single figures of saints, in the arch of this
chapel, standing like guardian deities within their Gothic niches,
Simone rivals greater artists in grace and strange beauty. In honour
of the franciscan donor the chief franciscan saints are depicted
beside two others of universal fame. St. Francis and St. Anthony of
Padua, and below them St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Mary
Magdalen; on the other side, St. Louis, King of France and St. Louis,
Bishop of Toulouse, and below them St. Clare and St. Elisabeth of
Hungary. Nowhere has St. Clare received so true an interpretation of
her gentle saintliness as in this painting by Simone, and he has
surpassed his other works in the exquisite drawing of the hand which
holds her habit to one side. It would seem as though in these saints
he had attained the limits of his power of expressing types of pure
beauty, were it not for the half figures in the embrasures of the
window of such finish and subtle charm as to haunt us like some strain
of long remembered music. There is a bishop in a cope of creamy white
with gold embroidery, a hermit with a long brown beard, and saints who
calmly pray with clasped hands. The broad white band of pale shadowed
fur is low enough to show the graceful line of the neck of the young
saint in the left hand window, his hair tinged with pale red and his
face so fair as to seem a shadow upon the wall, coming and going in
the play of light.

So enthralling is the study of the frescoes that it is possible to
leave the chapel without noticing the stained-glass windows, perhaps
the loveliest in the church where all are lovely. They seem to belong
to the same epoch as the paintings, and in one or two instances a
figure may have been inspired by them, such as the angels with sword
and shield who resemble Simone's angels in the upper part of the
fresco of St. Martin's death. Cardinal Gentile was in all probability
the donor of these as well as of the chapel, for he is represented in
the central window kneeling before St. Martin, who is in full
episcopals. These windows are dazzling; there are warriors in red and
green, saints standing against circles of cream-tinted leaves, St.
Jerome in magenta-coloured vestments harmonising strangely with the
crimson of his cardinal's hat; and St. Anthony of Padua in violet
shaded with paler lights as on the petals of a Florentine iris. A
saint in white is placed against a scarlet background, another in pale
china blue against a sky of deep Madonna blue, and all these colours
lie side by side like masses of jewels of every shade.

On leaving we find to the left of the papal throne a small chapel
ornamented only by a window which has an apostle standing in a plain
Gothic niche, the ruby red and tawny yellow of his mantle making a
brilliant patch of colour in this dark corner of the church. The head
is modern, but the figure, the circular pattern beneath, and the right
half of the window with five medallions, are, according to Herr Thode,
the oldest pieces of coloured glass in the lower church.

Just above the papal throne is a handsomely worked ambo in red marble
and mosaic, forming a kind of pulpit from which many illustrious
people have preached, among them St. Bonaventure and St. Bernardine of
Siena. In the recess a Florentine artist of the fourteenth century has
painted the Coronation of the Virgin, a fresco worthy of its beautiful
setting; and there is a crucifixion and scenes from the martyrdom of
St. Stanislaus of Poland by a follower of Pietro Lorenzetti, pupil of
Simone Martini. St. Stanislaus was canonised in 1253 when Innocent IV,
came to consecrate the Basilica, and upon this occasion a miracle took
place which redounds to the honour of the saint. While Cardinal de
Conti (afterwards Alexander IV,) was preaching, one of the capitals of
a pillar above the pulpit fell upon the head of a woman in the
congregation, and thinking she was dead, as she had sunk down without
a groan, her neighbours covered her over with a cloak "so as not to
disturb the solemnity of the occasion." But to their amazement when
the sermon ended the woman rose up and gave thanks to St. Stanislaus,
for the blow, far from doing her harm, had cured her of headaches to
which she had been subject. The legend would long since have been
forgotten, were it not that the capital which fell on that memorable
day is still suspended by chains in the opposite corner of the nave,
and often puzzles the visitor who does not know its history.

Below the pulpit is a slab of red marble let into the wall with these
simple words inscribed: "Hic jacet Jacoba sancta nobilisque romana,"
by which the Assisans commemorated the burial place of Madonna Giacoma
da Settesoli the friend of St. Francis, who after his death lived at
Assisi and followed the rule of the Third order until she died in 1239
(see p. 114).

_Left Transept._ - To Pietro Lorenzetti was given the work of
decorating these walls with scenes from the Passion, and so far as
completing the rich colour of the church be succeeded. But when
studied as separate compositions they betray the weakness of an artist
who, as Mr. Berenson remarks, "carries Duccio's themes to the utmost
pitch of frantic feeling." Great prominence is given to the subject
of the crucifixion where the vehement actions of the figures rather
than the nobility of the types are pre-eminent. It may be of interest
to some that the man on the white horse is said to be Gualtieri, Duke
of Athens, the tyrant of Florence, whose arms Vasari says he
discovered in the fresco which he describes as the work of Pietro

A curious composition is that on the opposite wall where the disciples
sit in awkward attitudes and the servants in the kitchen are seen
cleaning the dishes while a dog hastily licks up the scraps. It would
be difficult to know this represented a religious scene were it not
for the large aureoles of the apostles. Nor has Pietro succeeded in
giving solemnity to the scene of the Stigmata, where the strained
position of St. Francis and the agitated movement of the Seraph
partake of the general characteristics of these frescoes. But in his
Madonna, St. Francis and St. John the Evangelist, below the
crucifixion, Pietro Lorenzetti gives his very best and their faces we
remember together with the saints of Simone Martini. Referring to this
fresco M. Berenson says: "At Assisi, in a fresco by Pietro, of such
relief and such enamel as to seem contrived of ivory and gold rather
than painted, the Madonna holds back heart-broken tears as she looks
fixedly at her child, who, Babe though he is, addresses her earnestly;
but she remains unconsoled."[86]

_Chapel of S. Giovanni Battista._[87] - Another lovely work by Pietro
Lorenzetti is the triptych over the altar, the Madonna, St. Francis
and St. John the Baptist, but here the action of the child leaning
towards the Virgin and holding the end of her veil, is more caressing
and suggestive of babyhood. Above are small heads of angels like those
Pietro places in medallions round the frescoes in the south transept.
This, and the panel picture over the altar in the opposite chapel,
complete the works of the Sienese school in Assisi. The Umbrian school
is represented by a large and unsympathetic picture by Lo Spagna
(dated 1526), which is however considered by local admirers of the
painter to be his masterpiece. It is a relief to turn from his
yellow-eyed saints and hard colouring to the windows of this chapel
which are remarkable for their harmony and depth of tone.[88] The
figures of the central window date from the second half of the
thirteenth century, those of the left window are at least two
centuries later.

_The Sacristies._ - These open out of St. Giovanni's Chapel. Both are
ornamented with handsomely carved cupboards of the sixteenth century
where the friars store their vestments and costly lace, and which once
were full of gold and silver vessels amassed during many centuries.
But often during mediæval times of warfare the friars had to stand
aside and see the sacristies sacked by the Perugians, or even the
Assisans, when they must have envied the peace of mind of the first
franciscans who, possessing nothing, could have no fear of

Devoted as the citizens were to the memory of St. Francis they do not
seem to have hesitated, when in want of money, to help themselves
liberally to the things in his church. At one time when the Baglioni
were besieging Assisi, her despot Jacopo Fiumi gathered the citizens
about him, and in an eloquent harangue called upon them to rob the
church at once before the enemy had entered the gates, lest the
treasure should fall into the hands of the Perugians. So the
sacristies were rifled, and with the proceeds Jacopo Fiumi rebuilt the
walls and the palaces which had fallen to ruin during the incessant
fighting of past years. The next plunderers were the soldiers of
Napoleon, and it is a marvel that so many things still remain. A
cupboard in the inner sacristy contains a beautiful cross of
rock-crystal ornamented with miniatures in blue enamel brought by St.
Bonaventure as a gift from St. Louis of France; there is also the
second rule of St. Francis which was sanctioned by Honorius III. Even
more precious is a small and crumpled piece of parchment, with a
blessing written in the big child-like writing of St. Francis, which
he gave to Brother Leo at La Vernia after he had received the
Stigmata. On one side he wrote part of the Laudes Creatoris, upon the
other the biblical blessing:

"_Benedicat tibi Dominus et custodiat te_:
_Ostendat faciem suam tibi et misereatur tui_:
_Convertat vultum suam ad te et de tibi pacem_":

and then below:

"_Dominus benedicat te, Frate Leo._"

Instead of the Latin, the saint signs with the Thau cross, which is of
the shape of the mediæval gallows, and may have been yet another way
of showing his humility by humbling himself even to the level of
malefactors. Many pages have been written about this relic; the line
by Brother Leo in explanation below the signature of St. Francis:

"_Simili modo fecit istud signum Thau cum capite manu sua,_"

has puzzled many people, but in a pamphlet by Mr Montgomery
Carmichael[90] it has received a plausible translation. He thinks that
_cum capite_ refers to the small knob at the top of the Thau, by which
St. Francis meant to represent a malefactor's head; the line would
read thus: "in like manner with his own hand he made a cross with a
head," and not "with his own head," as some believe. Mr Carmichael
thinks the curious mound out of which the cross rises is a rough
drawing of La Vernia. Above the benediction, in neatly formed letters,
Brother Leo has written a short account of the sojourn at the Sacred
Mount and of the Vision of the Seraph. This relic has been mentioned
in the archives of the convent since 1348, and is always carried in
procession at the commencement of the feast of the "Perdono" on July

Almost more honoured by the faithful is the "Sacred Veil of the most
Holy Virgin," which can only be exposed to the public in the presence
of the Bishop of Assisi, and is shown in times of pilgrimage when the
sacristy and church are full of men and women waiting for their turn
to kiss the holy relic.

The picture over the door, painted by Giunta Pisano (?) is always
pointed out as a portrait of St. Francis, but as the painter's first
visit to Assisi was in 1230 he can only have seen the body of the
saint borne to its last resting-place in the Basilica, and even that
is doubtful when we remember with what secrecy the burial was
performed. Here the face is pointed and emaciated, with a curious look
in the eyes as though Giunta had desired to record his blindness. The
figure is surrounded by small scenes from the miracles of St. Francis,
performed during his lifetime and at his tomb in San Giorgio. But
though in the so-called portraits of the saint, the artists think more
of representing him as the symbol of asceticism and sanctity than of
aiming at giving a true likeness, both this picture and a fresco
painted in 1216 at Subiaco when the saint stayed there on his way to
Spain, are not very dissimilar from the graphic description left us by
Celano. He tells us that St. Francis "was rather below the middle stature
with a small round head and a long pinched face, a full but narrow
forehead and candid black eyes of medium size, his hair likewise was
black; the brows were straight, the nose well-proportioned, thin and
straight, the ears erect but small, and the temples flat; his speech
was kindly, yet ardent and incisive; his voice powerful, sweet, clear
and sonorous; his teeth were regular, white and set close; his lips
thin and mobile, his beard was black and scant, his neck thin, his
shoulders square; the arms were short, the hands small with long
fingers and almond-shaped nails, his legs were thin, his feet small,
his skin delicate, and he was very thin...."


_Right Transept._[91] - On the walls between the Chapels of the
Sacramento and of St. Maria Maddalena, Simone Martini has left some of
his loveliest work in the half figures of franciscan saints he places
near the Madonna. These are St. Francis, St. Louis of Toulouse, St.
Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Clare clothed in the habit of her order,
always to be recognised when painted by Simone by her heavy plaits of
hair, St. Anthony of Padua with the lily, St. Louis of France with a
crown of _fleur-de-lis_, and upon the right of the Virgin, a noble
saint who may be Helen the mother of King Louis, as she too holds a
sceptre with the lily of France on the top. Never had saints so
majestic a queen as Simone's Madonna. The subdued greens and tawny
reds of their mantles and their auburn hair look most beautiful
against the gold ground which shines with dull light about them. Each
of their aureoles bears a different pattern in raised _gesso_; a
garland of flowers, a circle of human heads, suns, a tracery of roses
and ivy, or yet again another of oak leaves. After Giotto's Allegories
and the frescoes in San Martino, these saints are by far the loveliest
things in San Francesco, and as they look towards us, ethereal, like a
faint moon on a misty night, they seem the very incarnation of
mediæval faith. Dante created women such as Matilda, who sings to him
in Purgatory as she is picking flowers on a woodland river's edge, and
Simone paints them and conveys their spirit in the faces of St. Clare
and St. Elizabeth.

_The Convent_

It is natural to think that the Basilica and Convent built under the
guidance of Elias was as we see it now in its full magnificence of
chapels, porch, colonnades and cloisters. Certainly the essential form
of the building has not been altered, but in the early days it stood
isolated from the town, surrounded by such rocks as jut out among the
grass in the ravine outside Porta S. Pietro, and approached by a
drawbridge which made it resemble, even more than it does now, a
feudal stronghold guarding the Umbrian valley. Later on, as the life
of the place centred ever more round the church of the saint, the
citizens no longer built their houses near San Rufino or below the
castle, but close to San Francesco, until a second town sprang up
where once were only rough mountain pastures. It is still possible to
form an idea of how it looked by following round the base of the hill
by the Tescio, whence a wonderful and unique view of the northern side
of church and convent is obtained (see Appendix). Assisi lies hidden,
and standing high above us, shutting out the view of the valley, is
San Francesco; not the building with great arches we are familiar
with, rising high above the vineyards, but a castle, seen clearly
defined and strong against the sky, whose bastions clasp the hill top
as powerfully as a good rider bestrides his horse. Oak copses cover
the slopes from the convent wall straight down to the banks of the
Tescio, where little mills are set above deep pools of emerald green
water and narrow canals fringed by poplar trees. The minute detail of
the landscape in this deep ravine gives a curious feeling that we are
walking in the background of one of Pier della Francesca's
pictures - even to the distant view of low-lying hills where the
torrent makes the sudden bend round the mountain edge; and the
contrast is strange between it and the fortress-church upon the dark
hill, where deep shadows lie across it and lurk within the crannies of
its traceries in the bay windows of the chapels and in the depths of
jutting stones. Such was the massive building "Jacopo" planned to
stand upon the mountain ridge, as much a part of the rocks and the red
earth as the cypresses which crown the summit. And in the midst, but
on the southern side, he placed, as if to balance the rest, a square
and boldly conceived bell-tower rising high above the church.[92]
At the time it was the wonder of the Assisans, who boasted that for
beauty as well as for solidity it could be counted among the first,
not in Italy only, but in Europe. Bartolomeo of Pisa, came to cast one
of the big bells, and together with his own name he inscribed those of
Elias, Gregory IX, and Frederick II. On another bell, which has been
recast, was graven a delightful couplet informing the faithful of the
many services which consecrated bronze could render to the country


"Sabbatha pango, funera plango, fulgura frango:
Excito lentos, domo cruentos, dissipo ventos."
("I ring in Sunday, I lament for the dead, the lightning I break,
I hurry the sluggards, I vanquish the wicked, the winds I disperse.")

To the time of Elias also belongs the fine entrance to the Upper
Church, where the Guelph lion and the eagle of Frederick II, record
the liberality of both parties towards the building of the church,
while the four animals round the wheel window seem to show that
"Jacopo," notwithstanding his marked love for pure Gothic
architecture, could not quite forget the strange but fascinating
beasts of Lombard façades.


One friar in the fifteenth century inherited some of the enthusiasm of
Elias for the basilica; this was Francesco Nani, the General of the
franciscans, known as Francesco Sansone because his patron, Sixtus IV,
is said to have addressed him with these words in allusion to his
energy and strength of character, "Tu es fortissimus Samson." His
name is found upon the beautiful stalls of the Upper Church, and it
was he who superintended the laying out of the upper piazza, connected
with the lower one by a long flight of stairs. It may also have been
at this time that the _loggie_ of San Francesco were built for the
purpose of erecting booths during the festival of the "Pardon of St.
Francis." Certainly it was chiefly at his expense that Baccio Pintelli
(1478) built the handsome entrance door and porch to the Lower Church,
which in olden times was entered by a small door close to the
campanile. The architect fitted his work admirably into a corner of
the building, completing with clustered columns of pink marble, wheel
window, trefoiled arches and stone traceries, the scheme of colour and
the perfect proportions for which San Francesco is so remarkable. The
doors of carved wood, darkened now and of such massive workmanship as
to resemble bronze, were made in 1546 by Niccolò da Gubbio, who has
carefully commemorated the legend of St. Francis and the wolf of
Gubbio in one of the panels to the left. Sansone also commissioned
the doorway of what is now the entrance to the friars' convent a year
after the porch was finished, then it was only a small chapel, built
by the members of the Third order when St. Bernardine of Siena revived
the religious enthusiasm of the people. The Assisan artist placed a
bas-relief of the saint in the arch above the door, and it is still
called "la porta di San Bernardino."

None should leave Assisi, not even those who only hurry over for the
day, without visiting the convent, which recalls an eastern building
from the whiteness of its great vaulted rooms, long corridors and
arcaded courtyards when seen against the bluest of summer skies.[93]
Then from the cool and spacious convent, a place to linger in upon a
hot day in August, we step out into the open colonnade which skirts
the building to the south, makes a sharp turn west, and then juts out
at the end, facing south again. This last portion was added by
Cardinal Albornoz in 1368, and goes by the name of the _Calcio_. But
two centuries later the foundations were found to be insecure, and
Sixtus IV, strengthened it by a bastion, which looks solid enough to
resist even the havoc of an earthquake. The Pope was a great
benefactor of the convent, and the friars placed his statue in a niche
in the bastion, where he sits, his hand raised in benediction, on a
papal throne overlooking the valley. From the rounded arches of rough
stone, turned by storm and sunshine to russet-red, pink and yellow, we
look out upon one of the most beautiful and extensive views in Umbria.
To the right is Perugia standing out almost aggressively on the hill
top; opposite, on a separate spur which divides the valley of Spoleto
from that of the Tiber, Bettona and Montefalco hang upon peaks like
the nests of birds in trees, and beyond are Spoleto, Trevi and Narni,
nearer again Spello, and the domes of Foligno in the plain, with a
host of small villages near. All the Umbrian world lies before us from
the convent of San Francesco.


Many weary people besides the popes came to rest here in early times,
and one mediæval warrior, Count Guido of Montefeltro, the great leader
of the Ghibellines, laid down his arms and left his castle at Urbino
in the year 1296, to pass his last days as a friar doing penance
within the peaceful shelter of San Francesco for a long life of
intrigue and bloodshed. He prayed by day, for at night they say he
stood gazing out of his window, one of those we see above the walled
orchard of the monks, watching the stars and attempting to divine the
mysteries and destinies he read there, exceeding even the superstition
of the age by his faith in the laws of astrology. But his meditations
and careful preparation for a holy death were suddenly disturbed, and
he found himself once more plunged into the whirl of Italian politics
and intrigue. War raged between Pope Boniface VIII, a Gaetani, and the
powerful family of the Colonna who braved his excommunications, and,
when their Roman palaces were burnt, fled to their strongholds in the
country. Many of these fell into the hands of the papal troops, but
Penestrino, their principal fief, resisted all attacks and the Pope
was nearly defeated when, remembering the old soldier Count Guido
known to be "more cunning than any Italian of his time, masterly alike
in war and in diplomacy," he hastened to ask his counsel. The story is
recounted by Dante, who could not forgive the Ghibelline chieftain for
coming to the assistance of the Pope.

Boniface, seeking to silence the scruples of the friar, promised to

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