In the Assisi plain and among the olive trees of the countryside, there is a place much beloved with reference to the Franciscan origins: the Shrine of Saint Damian. Here silence and peace reign, wonderfully framing the view on Nature all around. We actually know little about the origin of this structure, possibly built among the seventh and ninth centuries; and little, too, about the reasons why the church was dedicated to Saint Damian, a medical doctor and martyr whose relics had been taken to Rome in the mid-fifth century. We can anyway say for sure that the history of this very small church, then kept by an old priest, started to be in the limelight in 1205, when one day a 24-year-older called Francis stopped here to pray
From Grotto to Shrine
The architectural complex called “Hermitage of Carceri” started and developed around a grotto in which Saint Francis of Assisi used to retreat in order to pray. The Hermitage of Carceri is a place of memory, kept alive by the Franciscan friars who still live there; and a place of witness, as well, permeated with spirituality. Here preserved is not only the very place where Francis talked with God, but also the way in which the little poor friar kept in contact with the Lord while closely in touch with Nature. Francis in fact immersed himself in the contemplation of all created things, which according to him were a sign of God’s love – to the extent of calling even the smallest natural beauty his “sister,” as his biographer, Saint Bonaventure, says: “While considering that all things share a common origin, he felt all the more full of compassion, and called all creatures, however small, by the name of brother or sister” (Legenda Maior, VIII.6). In a thick wood at the feet of Mount Subasio, some 2,400 feet on sea level, during Francis’ time there were natural grottoes and just a very small church called Saint Mary of Carceri. The warm color of the stones, the material in which the church and later the whole shrine was built, is in perfect harmony with the green of Nature all about, and makes this site, embedded in Umbrian woods, a really unique place.