Saint Francis and Franciscan Sites in Italy

Where to See Sites and Churches from the Life of Saint Francis

Here are places you can visit in Italy from the life of Saint Francis. Saint Francis, Italy's patron saint, was born in Assisi in 1182. The son of a wealthy merchant, he gave all he owned to the poor and founded a humble community based on poverty and simplicity.

For an in-depth look at Saint Francis in and around Assisi, take Select Italy's From Riches to Rags: The Story of St. Francis of Assisi guided tour.

Even if you're not interested in Saint Francis, he really knew how to find beautiful spots and these places are well worth a visit:

  • 01 of 11
    saint francis basilica photo
    ••• Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi. by Rebecca Winke, used by permission

    Saint Francis was born in Assisi and his tomb is in a crypt below Saint Francis Basilica, a popular pilgrimage and tourist site in Assisi. Construction on the large church started in 1228 when Saint Francis was canonized. Also in Assisi is the Church of Santa Chiara, or Saint Clare, that holds her remains. Clare was an important follower of Saint Francis. Near Assisi are several other sites associates with Saint Francis.

  • 02 of 11
    saint francis woodland photo
    ••• Saint Francis Woods © 2011 by Enrico Nannetti/Via di Francesco

    Saint Francis Woodlands Park is on Mount Subasio behind the town of Assisi in the woods that Saint Francis often visited. Visitors can walk on a three different color-coded walking paths with audio guides - the landscape route, the historical route, and the spiritual route. Hours and Visitor Information.

  • 03 of 11

    Below Assisi, inside the large Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, you can see the tiny Porziuncola chapel, said to have been restored by Francis, and the cell where he died in 1226. Above Assisi is the Eremo delle Carceri, a Franciscan monastery about 4 kilometers from town. Inside the complex is a cave that Francis used as a retreat.

  • 04 of 11
    La Verna Sanctuary photo
    ••• La Verna Sanctuary. © by Martha Bakerjian

    La Verna, in eastern Tuscany, is the where Francis is said to have received the stigmata. Saint Francis used to retreat to this beautiful spot perched on a rocky promontory in the mountains. He founded a small church on this spot in 1216 and eight years later he received the stigmata. Today there's a large church and monastic complex but you can still see the small church, the cave that was his cell, and the chapel built on the spot where he received the stigmata.

    The sanctuary, perched a rocky promontory, is visible from afar and is in a remote and beautiful forest area with fantastic views of the countryside.

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  • 05 of 11

    Le Celle di Cortona Franciscan Convent

    le celle picture, celle monastery, celle picture
    ••• Le Celle Monastery. by James Martin

    In the woods outside Cortona is a peaceful Franciscan convent called the Convento delle Celle or Convent of the cells. Saint Francis founded the monastery in the early 13th century, preaching here in 1211. Inside the convent is the spartan cell with a stone bed and wooden pillow used by Francis. From the convent there are good views of the valley below.

  • 06 of 11

    Greccio - the First Christmas Crib

    The Nativity scene or Christmas crib is said to have originated with Saint Francis in 1223 when he constructed a nativity scene out of straw in a cave in the town of Greccio and held Christmas Eve mass there. Greccio reenacts this event each year and there's a collection of nativity scenes and a memorial to Saint Francis. Greccio is in the Rieti Province of Lazio (see Lazio map).

    More: Christmas Cribs or Presepi in Italy

  • 07 of 11

    La Foresta and the Sacred Valley

    Also in Rieti Province (see Lazio map), 4 kilometers from the town of Rieti, is La Foresta Franciscan Sanctuary. Francis stayed here in 1225 and it's believed that this is where he composed the Song of Brother Sun. There's a 13th century church and a cave used by Francis. In addition to Greccio and La Foresta, Francis visited other parts of the Rieti Valley and it's sometimes called the Sacred Valley. The Saint Francis Walk, an 80 kilometer walk, is a pilgrimage walk along paths used by Francis that includes eight stops important to Francis.

  • 08 of 11
    Basilica of St John Lateran Picture, Papal cathedra picture
    ••• The Papal cathedra in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. © James Martin, Europe Travel
    The Basilica of Saint John Lateran is Rome's cathedral and during the 13th century the adjoining Lateran palace was the home to the Popes. It is here that St. Francis persuaded Pope Innocent III to give permission to begin the Franciscan Order. Also in Rome is the 13th century San Francesco d'Assisi a Ripa Church, the site of a hospice for travelers where Francis stayed during while he was in Rome.
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  • 09 of 11
    santa chiara pictures, saint francis fresco
    ••• Santa Chiara Monastery, Naples: Fresco of Saint Francis and the Wolf in Gubbio. © 2010 by Martha Bakerjian
    Gubbio is a well-preserved medieval hill town in Umbria where Francis lived for awhile. It's here that Saint Francis made peace with a wolf that was bothering the people of Gubbio. According to the story, after Francis tamed the wolf, the wolf lived peacefully with the people of Gubbio for two years until he died of old age.
  • 10 of 11

    Isola Maggiore - Lake Trasimeno

    Isola Maggiore is a pretty island in Lake Trasimeno, Italy's largest lake, in the Umbria region (see Umbria map). Today it's known for lace-making but in the 13th century it was deserted and in 1211 Francis spent a month on the island fasting for Lent.

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    The Pilgrim's Italy - A Travel Guide to the Saints

    If you're intereseted in Saint Francis sites or other pilgrimage sites in Italy, The Pilgrim's Italy is an excellent resource. Authors James and Colleen Heater cover important religous sites in eight of Italy's regions from Puglia in the south through the Veneto in the north. Each chapter includes background information, shrine information, lodging suggestions, maps, and other things to see in the area. Use this book to create your own pilgrimage adventure.

Monasteries to Visit in Italy

There are many ancient monasteries, ranging from evocative ruins to working monasteries, that you can see throughout Italy. Here are 11 of the best to visit.