But it is of Francis the saint, not of Francis the gallant whose magnificent manners Assisi once knew so well, and who to the last day carried a memory of that early bearing with him in gesture and in tone—it is of him the whole scene speaks so eloquently still. It is of Francis the young man of the world, who heard the stranger crying through the streets, “Peace and goodwill,” and let the words of that evangel sink into his heart; Francis the renouncer of the world, the flesh, and the devil, who took Poverty to wife, and with his own hands rebuilt for her and for their spiritual sons the little Portiuncula in the plain below; this was the Francis of Assisi we were in search of. (p. 511)
We were fortunate in our quest, for the biographer of St. Francis, who has done so much to make the Seraphic city—the city of his love—a common possession of interest for all the world, chanced to be at Assisi, and, knowing our interest in his work, he most kindly volunteered to be our guide. To read Sabatier is a pleasure; to speak with him is a greater. The finely chiselled face beneath his dark brows lights up, the pensive brown eyes flash fire, he pushed back the heavy crop of hair from his brow with a sort of impetuosity of excitement as he talks of the great reformer—the noblest Christian of his time; but it is not till one takes a walk with him in his dear Assisi—the city of which he has so lately been made a freeman by the common consent of the Podestà and Town Council—that one can understand how real a living companion of his life St. Francis is, or how at this day the Poverello is an abiding presence in the place. (p. 511)….
We left the Duomo and climbed a narrow street under the green hill, where the Rocca Maggiore shines with its crown of towers; not without a pause, for the fine view of the citadel from the cathedral square, and some talk of the ghost of Frederick III., the Emperor of Germany, who stole the tiara from the Pope, and is seen here once a year struggling after a man who bears a crozier in the front of the procession, but ever unable to grasp it. A little detached house of St. Francis’ date was first noticed as we ascended. Then a tiny church with Etruscan fragments in its wall, and fresco above fresco in its porch, was peeped at, dedicated to St. Mary of the Roses. A smaller church still was seen below us on the left, a fairly good specimen of the parish churches of St. Francis’ date; this was San Rufinicci. After passing along beneath olives we came to an abandoned church whose very name has passed out of mind; just beyond it and beneath was another whose apse is still beautiful to look upon. Hard by this our guide stopped. “I think,” he said, “this is one of the fairest viewpoints we can obtain of the town and its surroundings. There, in the right-hand distance, lies Perugia, St. Francis’ prison home; under that dark hill of wood he slept the night he had the vision that the Pope had granted him the conformation of his Order. Nearer still, where the white bed of the Chiasco shines, you see clearly the garden and cypresses of the Benedictine monastery of St. Paolo, near to Bastia, where Claire found her first fifteen days of refuge after receiving the tonsure. There, in mid-plain, we have the Portiuncula. The road that leads to it so whitely is the road down which St. Francis was borne to the place of his death; and how clearly can we see the hospital whence, when his litter was turned round, he blessed this Seraphic city! Nearer still we can see the brown roof of the Lepers’ House he established, and the chapel where the first Order of Brothers Minor was instituted. Look now to the left, and one can distinguish the long straight line of ancient trees where Francis walked when he called the birds his brothers and preached his sermon to them; and, farther to the left still, one can see the church tower of Rivo Torto, where the brothers saw in vision the fiery chariot that had borne their master to his heavenly home. Bring your eye back from Rivo Torto towards the hill, and there, amongst its olives, lies San Domenico, with all its memory of St. Francis and Sister Claire. While, if we turn our heads towards Subasio, San Benedetto dei Carceri, and the castle hold of Sister Claire’s parents, are all in sight.” (pp. 516-7)
We said nothing. The whole scene was too filled with precious memory to do more than make us look and be silent. (p. 517)
(Contemporary Review, 74 (October 1898), 505-18)