ASSISI, Italy — A massive rainstorm is sweeping across the Umbrian countryside south of Assisi, drenching citron-tinged fields and hurtling lightning bolts at rustic farmhouses. With no umbrella or raincoats, we flatten ourselves against an ancient doorway, preparing for the deluge. Suddenly, as if guided by an unseen hand, the storm veers off, sparing the town. The sun reemerges, casting dazzling beams on stone-paved streets that have weathered many tempests over the centuries, from the Roman conquest of central Italy in 295 BC to the region’s devastating earthquake of 1997.
Assisi’s resilience as a spiritual, artistic, and architectural landmark arises from its historical renown as the birthplace of St. Francis, a patron saint of Italy who founded the Franciscan monastic order. For 700 years Christian pilgrims have ascended to the lofty hill town on the slope of Monte Subasio to pay homage to the humble Italian friar who was born into wealth in the 12th century but chose to live in poverty and serve the poor.