UMBRIA - Assisi
FILE : St. Francis Basilica 

Between 1208, when Innocence III authorized Francis and his followers to preach, and 1223, when Onorio III confirmed the Rule of the religious Order, the Saint’s proselytism boosts a vast religious movement , becoming out of control to Francis himself.  The monk Elia soon took charge of organizing the Franciscan Order, presenting his official speech on behalf of Francis in the Chapter, in 1221. In 1224 Elia would take the place of Francis in the direction of the Order.

After Francis died and before his canonization , Elia had already projected the construction of an ‘oratorium vel ecclesiam pro beatissimo corpore Sancti Francisci’ . Only two years after  Francis’ death , the day after his canonization, on July 17th 1228, Gregory IX laid the Basilica’s foundation stone dedicated to him. Founded on a steep ridge of a high hill, in an area used for capital punishments, the building is composed of two basilicas, one upon the other. On May 15 1230 the Saint’s corpse was moved  from St. George church to a crypt excavated in the rock, underneath the main altar of the new church. 

Its structure is supported by huge cylindrical buttresses outside that hinge the two churches and by series of  buttresses and flying buttresses. Both the churches have a Tau Latin cross plant, with only one hall, transept and apse.

Basilica inferiore The Lower Basilica, anchored to the rocky ground is divided into four large bays that, laid down upon squat and hardy pillars, they seem to be overhanging. The massive walls initially were interrupted by small centring windows opened along the bays on the sides and in the semi-circular apse: little windows (today only the three in the apse and some others along the walls are left) that suggested a heavy and dark atmosphere in the crypt.

Between the end of 1200 and beginning of 1300 the basilica was deeply modified , with new and large noble chapels added to its sides. As a consequence, new and wide windows were opened up , giving more light to the almost dark interior: large four-lancet windows with a rose window above in the square chapels; while three high mullioned windows with pointed arches lighten the polygonal ones.

The first project for the Upper Basilica presented a simple church typology. However, the Conventuals’ reasons prevailed over the Spirituals’ attitude to poverty, affirming their idea for a new grandiose and imposing basilica, that had to represent its role as mother-church in relation to the same convents in Thuringia and Rhineland. Pope Innocence III, coming back from his exile in Lyons after emperor Frederick II died, on May 25 1253 consecrated with a solemn ceremony both the altars of the two churches. Some weeks later in July, he promulgated the privilege with which allowed the monk Filippo di Campello, prevost of the Fabbrica, to receive offers at the altars in order to complete the works at the Basilica and start its decoration. That was the first of a series of concessions until the edict of Narbonne.

Basilica superiore The  plan of the Upper church faithfully follows the one of the Lower Basilica but it is characterized by the balanced planovolumetric ratio between the wide only hall and the vast cross vaults of the roofing that creates an interior of great and harmonious proportions. The walls consist of a high base on the sides where the mullioned windows raise from , an area the results to be withdrawn for the presence of a balcony put in along the sides of the nave . The narrow mullioned windows opened up in the apse, about seven metres of height, take the place of great part of the walls creating a diaphany effect, following a lay out similar to the windowed walls of the Ile de France. Instead, the two four lancet windows in the transepts heads and the mullioned windows in the nave are less invasive, creating a balanced proportion with the walls.

Plan of the Upper church

Plan of the Lower Church