Friday, July 16, 2010
A tiny child with large eyes, an oversized dress, and dirty cheeks held her grandmother's hand as she walked down the cobblestone streets of Assisi, Italy. She had just left a bakery and in her other hand was a bun with white frosting.
The little girl was so adorable so I asked her grandmother "posso prendere la sua foto?"
She smiled and nodded "yes."
When I returned to the States and developed the film, that photo was the only one that did not come out. It happened so that the precious girl with blondish hair is more vivid in my mind nearly two decades later.
She is a symbol of Assisi for me because she walks the same streets that St. Francis and St. Clare did each day. At first glance, the child looked extremely poor, what most people would describe as a street urchin. But, her life is richer than mine. She still has her innonence and is with her loving grandmother in a place where I long to be.
I spent time at Eremo dell Carceri, the hermitage above Assisi where St. Francis preached to the animals and then I followed the path of St. Clare which led me to her sister, St. Agnes of Assisi, who had an equally remarkable life.
She was born Caterina Offreduccio in 1197. On April 3, 1212, sixteen days after St. Clare left home to follow St. Francis, St. Agnes moved into a monastery determined to live a life of penance and poverty.
Their father was so upset with them for leaving that he had his brother, Monaldo, and armed men force St. Agnes to return home. When Monaldo pulled his sword on his niece, his arm went limp. His followers yanked at St. Agnes's hair and dragged her out of the monastery.
Her body became so heavy that she was dropped in a meadow and the family believed that it was a sign of divine intervention so let the sisters follow their profession.
St. Francis cut off St. Agnes's locks and gave her the habit of Poverty. She became the abbess of the Poor Ladies (better known as the Poor Clares), the order founded by her sister.
In 1219, St. Agnes went to Florence to govern a Poor Ladies group at Monticelli. She also established the order in other communities throughout Italy.
St. Agnes cared for St. Clare who became ill and died on August 11, 1253. St. Agnes died three months later on Nov. 16, 1253. The sisters are buried at the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi where I visited.
St. Agnes's feast day is Nov. 16.
(Happy Birthday, St. Clare: July 16, 1194 and
Happy Birthday, Mom: July 16, 1935. R.I.P. wherever you may be.)