Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Francis of Assisi: Simple Huts and Small Chapel

Francis, Bernard, Peter and Giles formed a small community of likeminded believers, inhabiting two stone sheds used for animals in the pastureland below Assisi. Although the original sheds are gone, replicas have been erected in their place. See photo above.

Christ-Centered Community
The four spiritual brothers slept in the one shed. About the size of a “four man tent” today, the accommodations were barely large enough for four adults to sleep shoulder-to-shoulder. In fact, they drew marks on the ceiling to define where each one’s space began and the others’ ended! The second shed was used as a kitchen. The area in between served for fellowship and prayer.

Soon others joined until the small community numbered a dozen. From all strata of medieval society, they laid aside their differences to live together on equal footing as brothers. This is the point where Francis and his twelve companions went to Rome to receive approval for their community, as described in the last blog.

Little Portion
Upon returning from Rome, Francis and the brothers found their huts occupied by animals. One of the local farmers had claimed the sheds for himself. Rather than causing conflict, the little community moved to another location in the marshy meadowlands below Assisi.

In the middle of one field stood a small stone chapel that Francis loved to frequent. That chapel and the surrounding area were owned by the Benedictine monks whose monastery overlooked the whole valley. Francis approached the Abbot to request the use of this “little portion”—Portiuncula—of land, which the Abbot allowed Francis and the brothers to utilize. The chapel of the Portiuncula has been preserved to this day, with the original walls still in tact.

In April, when we went inside the little chapel just below Assisi, I gained a whole new appreciation of Francis and his companions! I love unadorned, little chapels, and I love the fields. That is where the new community of brothers chose to settle for the remainder of their days. As I touched the stone walls and looked out the small windows, it was amazing to think that these are the very same walls where Francis came to spend time alone with the Lord, day after day. This was the window he looked out to see the sunny sky and the pouring rain. Just being there gave me a fresh appreciation for Francis’ simplicity, his admiration of God’s creation and his humble pursuit of the Lord.

Simplicity of the Gospel
Francis’ simplicity was both in terms of an uncomplicated lifestyle—living in stone huts and then on the “Little Portion” of land with its small chapel—as well as his undivided focus on Jesus seen in his personal prayer life, his serving the multitudes and preaching the Gospel in the common language.

What a powerful model for radical Christians in our day!

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

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