Why Visiting Assisi in Italy Broadens Your Horizons

As a non-religious, and barely spiritual person, Assisi, Italy was not high on my list. It is arguably one of the holiest places in Italy after of course the Vatican and several well-known dumonos (English: Cathedrals). As an archaeology staff member (i.e second-year student) at an Etruscan field school, there were many, many more places that I wanted to see.

Particularly museums and sites where I could study artifacts that I needed for my honors thesis, to both pass my college Honors program and justify my research grant. There were also many beaches that would have made it impossible to focus on those things, which I was perfectly fine with.

But, our cook and her husband were going along with a few others and they had a car. More importantly, Jordan wanted to go. He had been to Assisi before, as a high school student, and he knew he had not appreciated Assisi the way he knew he should have. Jordan dressed up, in a white dress shirt with khakis out of reverence. Me, I dressed as a tourist in our field school shirt and shorts. So off we went, on a Sunday to Assisi.

The lessons that I learned that day have stuck with me. I know that these lessons have shaped who I am today. Let me share them with you now.

The Approach

There is no greater feeling then approaching Assisi. No matter which way you look, the hill city with the stone arches that appear to rise out of the rock is simply breathtaking. There is simply nothing else like it that I have yet to see: Italian architecture, ancient, medieval, and modern are all a feast for the eyes and a balm for the heart. I don’t think that I had ever seen anything so amazing. I remember holding Jordan’s hand and I knew he could feel me shaking.

The Town

Landscape shot of the Town of Assisi in Italy

Italian hill towns, despite what many may think, all have their own character. Assisi’s was exceptionally clean, wide streets, white to tan colored stone on all the buildings, hardly any people out and about, and a silence I have yet to encounter anywhere else. So silent in fact, that I could feel how different this town was. It lacked the hustle and bustle of the Vatican and its crowds. It was serene, simple and calm.

The first lesson on why Assisi broadens your horizons: never expect that you understand a place because you have visited similar towns. Go to every place, religious or not, expecting to be amazed.

Our cook is a Catholic who happened by a Church that was having mass. It looked like every other Italian church, but this one was truly special. Being non-religious I did not think it right to step foot in the church, but I got a good glimpse inside of it. Unlike highly decorated churches, the inside of this one had not been maintained. Only scraps of once vibrant murals remained, with bare concrete walls left. I was at first appealed that the church was in such a state, but then the singing started. It did not matter about the walls, it mattered about the people inside of it, giving thanks that the church still stood and that God loved each of them. It was our cook’s excitement about being in Italy, in Assisi, on a Sunday afternoon where she could attend a short sermon.

The Basilica of St. Assisi

The view from the lower courtyard of the Assisi Basilica

For those who aren’t familiar, St. Assisi is known as the patron saint of animals. He is actually the founder of several Catholic orders, for both monks and nuns, and accomplished much in his short life. The Basilica was built in his honor and it is absolutely amazing. There is nothing else like it. Photography is discouraged on the inside, but just take a look on the outside in the lower courtyard. We could have spent days getting lost in the Basilica and not even seen a small portion of the place.

This is where the second lesson I learned happened: no matter how large or small the monument,  the significance of the building is only as strong as the person it is dedicated to.

I was dressed like a tourist, but I didn’t leave one. This massive, amazing structure had been dedicated to the accomplishments of one man, who has impacted hundreds of millions of people through his humble personality and righteous character. To me, St. Assisi became more than just a Catholic figure with a monument: he embodied the ethics and character I wanted to have. It didn’t matter that he was representative of a religion I don’t entirely agree with, he was just a person who had done something incredible and deserved such a monument to his greatness.

Leaving Assisi

Everyone was so tired from the walking, heat, and epiphanies we all fell asleep (except for the driver of course). I remember falling asleep feeling light as a feather, with a new outlook on life.

I do not think that I can pinpoint another point in my life that has impacted me the way this trip to Assisi did. I am forever changed, with my horizons as wide as the Earth is round.

The third lesson and final lesson comes from Jordan’s own writing: “Nothing lasts forever… Every person dies and every building crumbles, no matter how great or small. Life is about making the biggest impact you can with what time you have.”

No truer words have ever been written. So religious or not, tourist or researcher, no matter what path you walk or life you lead, always remember that you only have a short time in this world. Visit those places that you don’t think you will enjoy or believe you will benefit from.

Jordan Miranda passed away on February 29th, 2016. He loved Assisi and almost everything about Italy. He loved it so much he went back three times, and could not get enough of everything Italy had to offer.

Jordan Miranda in Assisi

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