Friday, October 25, 2019

Treasures of the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi

One of the few parts of the great complex of the basilica of St Francis in Assisi where photography is permitted is the treasury museum. Over the centuries, the church has accumulated a great many artistic treasures, wholly in keeping with the ideal of St Francis himself, who knew full well that the poverty of religious is not practiced by impoverishing the house of God. Here are some of the items displayed there; most of them are under glass, which makes for suboptimal conditions for the photographer.

A processional cross made in Umbria, the Italian region which includes Assisi, in gilded copper, 12th century.
On the left, a chalice donated to the basilica by Pope Nicholas IV (1227-92, elected 1288), the first Franciscan Pope; his Papal name is written on the node, along with that of the contemporary Sienese goldsmith who made it, Guccio di Mannaia. On the right, a reliquary of St Andrew from the same period.
A Missal, Epistolary and Evangeliary, all made in the 13th century in the workshop of St Louis IX, King of France, who was a great supporter of the Franciscan order.
A French reliquary in gilded silver, made ca. 1300 to contain part of a reputed garment of Christ Himself.
Reliquaries of one of the thorns of Our Lord’s Crown (left; French, 13th century) and of St Catherine of Alexandria (right; 14 century.)
A painted ivory statue of the Virgin and Child made in France in the 13th century.
A painted crucifix by the anonymous painter known as the Master of the Blue Crucifixes, 13th century. In the early Middle Ages, Christ was generally shown on the Cross awake, upright and dressed, to show that he was still the creator and sustainer of the universe, even in the midst of His Passion. It was the Franciscans who shifted the emphasis of the motif towards the humanity of Christ, and the depiction of His suffering as an expression of His love for mankind.
A cross made in Venice in 1338 from rock crystal, gilded silver, enamel, and miniature work in coral, with a carved agate for the node. The rock crystal parts were lost and have been replaced by modern restorers with clear plastic in imitation of the original shape.
A painting of St Francis, with four of his miracles in the side panels, by an unknown Romanesque-Byzantine painter, 1265-75.
A 14th century French reliquary of St James, in gilded silver and pietra dura.
Two rock-crystal candlesticks, Venetian manufacture, ca. 1338; two gilded copper Angels made in the Abruzzi region of Italy, ca. 1450; and a bronze seal of the convent of St Francis, 1450.
A gold frieze and antependium donated to the basilica by Pope Sixtus IV (1414-84, elected 1471), formerly known Francesco Maria della Rovere, who served as Minister General of the Franciscan Order from 1464-69. In the middle, he is shown in full Papal regalia, kneeling down before St Francis; the oak-leaf and acorn motif refers to his family name, which means “oak-tree.”
A mitre made somewhere in Italy towards the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th century.
A reliquary of St Ursula in gilded copper, rock crystal and pietra dura, with a glass medallion of St Francis receiving the Stigmata on the lid; Rhenish, 14th century.
A reliquary casket in ivory and inlaid wood, 14th century.
The basilica’s processional bell, which together with a large red-and-yellow striped umbrella known as an “umbraculum” or “conopaeum”, was traditionally one of the required insignia of a basilica, and carried by members of the clergy assigned to the church when they participated as a group in a religious procession.
A portable standard of the Holy Name of Jesus used by St Bernardin of Siena, the great promoter of that devotion, made in Umbria in the second quarter of the 15th century.
Reliquaries of St Blase (gilded silver and enamel, Italian, 15th century); St Fortunatus (gilded copper, rock crystal and amber, Umbrian, 16th century); St Rose (gilded silver, French, 16th century); St Felician (gilded copper and enamel, Umbrian, 15th century); and a stone from the Holy Sepulcher (gilded silver, enamel and pietra dura, Umbrian, 15th century).
A cross made on Mt Athos in the 16th or 17th century of filigreed wood, gold, silver, enamel and coral. Despite its incredible elaborate workmanship, this cross was made to be held by hand and used to bless the faithful at the end of the Divine Liturgy, and for certain blessings that require a cross, such as the major blessing of waters at Epiphany.
An alb known improperly as “the alb of St Clare”, made in imitation of an alb actually made by St Clare, and preserved at her basilica in Assisi. The main body was made in the 19th century, with a decorative border reused from another garment of the 17th century.
Italian vestments of the later 17th and 18th centuries.
A statue of St Francis and 3 chalices from the 18th century, and a 19th century reliquary of St Januarius, Patron Saint of Naples.
An 18th century Italian-made reliquary with a piece of the True Cross.
A complete liturgical service-set with its case, made of gilded silver decorated with coral, from the Sicilian city of Trapani, 17th century.
Various liturgical items made in the 18th century, and a wall-clock donated by the Emperor Leopold I of Austria in 1700.
A Eucharistic tabernacle made of gilded and silvered wood in 1571.
A German Calvary in ivory, 18th century.
More liturgical items, mostly of the 18th century.
On the left, a rock-crystal procession cross decorated with balls of amber at the extremities, a Venetian work of the 14th century; on the right, an Italian processional cross in silver of the 14th or 15th century.
A Flemish-made tapestry donated by Pope Sixtus IV, with the “genealogical tree” of the Franciscan Order. From behind St Francis, who is shown receiving the Stigmata, the branches on the left are Ss Clare, Eleazar (a French Baron and tertiary of the Order, died 1323, canonized ca. 1370), and Louis of Toulouse; on the right, Anthony of Padua, Elizabeth of Hungary, and Bernardine of Siena. At the time the tapestry was made, these were all the formally canonized Saints of the Order. The Madonna and Child are above St Francis. At the bottom is a group of five particularly notable Franciscans: Cardinal Bonaventure, “the Seraphic Doctor”, Pope Nicholas IV, Pope Sixtus IV (with the Della Rovere family crest in the border underneath him), Pope Alexander V (the first Pope of the “Pisan obedience”), and Cardinal Pietro Aureoli, a 14th doctor at the Sorbonne. The tapestry can be dated to the period between Pope Sixtus’ election in 1471, and the canonization of Bonaventure, which he proclaimed in 1482.

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