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Quiet and peaceful San Damiano Convent is where it all began

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 1st, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

San Damiano Convent is the birthplace of all holy sites in Assisi. It is the holy ground where St. Francis first received his miraculous calling in 1205 and where St. Clare died in 1253. A visit to the plain and understated convent is an absolute must-see on any pilgrimage to the Franciscan holy city. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The convent originally hosted a small Benedictine priory which had been in existence since 1030. It was in 1205 when a young and restless Francesco visited the dilapidated old oratory. Praying before a 12th-century painted crucifix, Christ suddenly came to life and told Francis to "Rebuild my church."

Francis began reconstructing the church with his own hands, later becoming a favorite retreat for Francis and his followers. The convent was where Francis wrote the first draft of his celebrated Canticle of the Creatures.

St. Clare, follower and close friend of Francis, founded her Order of the Poor Clares at San Damiano in 1212. She lived here most of her life as its abbess, dying in an upstairs room on August 11, 1253. Her body was transferred a few years later to the Basilica di Santa Chiara.

Located in the beautiful Umbrian countryside just outside Assisi, San Damiano is simple and understated a welcome contrast from the large, crowded memorials to St. Francis in town.

San Damiano does not have the artistic importance of the renowned Basilica of San Francesco, but it does have some notable artworks.

The church's single nave is dimly lit and covered with a pointed barrel vault. It bears 14th-century frescoes depicting St. Agnes; St. Francis Praying before the Crucifix; St. Francis Throwing Away His Money in Front of the Priest and the Father of St. Francis Threatening Him with a Stick. The painted crucifix is a copy of the miraculous icon that spoke to St. Francis. The original now hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare.

The choir, even lower and darker than the nave, has wooden stalls from the early 16th century. Its apse is decorated with a 13th-century fresco of the Madonna and Child between Sts. Rufinus and Damianus.
 
The Chapel of San Girolamo, located upstairs has some brightly colored frescoes by Tiberio of Assisi dating from 1517-22. The apse depicts the Madonna and Child between St. Francis and St. Clare, surrounded by the Four Evangelists with their symbols. The side wall shows St. Clare with her nuns.

The monastery buildings are usually open to visitors. The attractive 15th-century cloister has frescoes of San Francesco Receiving the Stigmata and The Annunciation, signed by Eusebio da San Giorgio in 1507.


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