The church and convent of San Damiano is where it all began in Assisi. As the place where St. Francis first received his miraculous calling in 1205 and where St. Clare died in 1253, it is an important stop on the pilgrimage to the Franciscan holy city. The simple oratory is located in a beautiful setting just outside the walls of Assisi.
History of San Damiano Convent
The originally hosted a small Benedictine priory, documented since 1030. In 1205, in its dilapidated old oratory, a young and restless Francesco was praying before a 12th-century painted crucifix. Suddenly, the Christ on the crucifix came to life and spoke to Francis, saying, "Rebuild my church."
Francis took the command literally at first, reconstructing the little church with his own hands. The church later became a favorite retreat for Francis and his followers and it was here that he wrote the first draft of his celebrated Canticle of the Creatures.
St. Clare, follower and close friend of Francis, founded her Order of the Poor Clares here at San Damiano in 1212. She lived here most of her life as its abbess and passed away in an upstairs room on August 11, 1253. Her body was transferred a few years later to the Basilica di Santa Chiara, constructed in her honor.
What to See at San Damiano Convent
Located in the beautiful Umbrian countryside just outside Assisi, San Damiano is a simple and peaceful place - a nice change from the large and crowded memorials to St. Francis in town.
San Damiano does not have the artistic importance of the renowned Basilica of San Francesco, but that is part of its charm and what keeps it so quiet and peaceful here. And it does have some notable artworks.
The church's single nave is dimly lit and covered with a pointed barrel vault. It bears 14th-century frescoes depicting St. Agnes; St. Francis Praying before the Crucifix (damaged); St. Francis Throwing Away His Money in Front of the Priest; and the Father of St. Francis Threatening Him with a Stick. The painted crucifix is a copy of the miraculous icon that spoke to St. Francis; the original now hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare.
The choir, even lower and darker than the nave, has wooden stalls from the early 16th century. Its apse is decorated with a 13th-century fresco of the Madonna and Child between Sts. Rufinus and Damianus. Much retouched over the years, the fresco shows similarities with the Maesta del Cimabue in the lower church of the Basilica of St. Francis.
Upstairs, the Chapel of San Girolamo contains some brightly colored frescoes by Tiberio of Assisi (a pupil of Perugino) dating from 1517-22. The apse depicts the Madonna and Child between St. Francis and St. Clare, surrounded by the Four Evangelists with their symbols. The side wall shows St. Clare with her nuns.
The monastery buildings are usually open to visitors. The attractive 15th-century cloister has frescoes of San Francesco Receiving the Stigmata and The Annunciation, signed by Eusebio da San Giorgio in 1507.
The old dormitory is a large empty room with a view over the cloisters; the spot in which Clare died is lovingly marked. The little Choir of the Poor Clares contains wooden choir stalls from the time of St. Clare (13th century) and a Crucifixion fresco by Pier Antonio Mezzastris (1482). The refectory retains its old tables and benches, as well as frescoes by Dono Doni.
Quick Facts on San Damiano Convent
|Names:||San Damiano Convent|
|Categories:||churches; monasteries; World Heritage Sites|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||43.061704° N, 12.618012° E|
|Address:||Via San Damiano|
|Hours:||Daily 10am-12:30pm and 2-6pm|
|Lodging:||View hotels near San Damiano Convent|
- Personal visit (April 26, 2008).
- Costantino Troiano and Alfonso Pompei, trans. Benedict Fagone, Illustrated Guide of Assisi (Assisi: CEFA), 117-19.
- Church of San Damiano - Bella Umbria
- Alta Macadam and Ellen Grady, Blue Guide Central Italy with Rome and Florence, 1st ed. (Somerset: Blue Guides Limited, 2008), 532-33.
- Frommer's Florence, Tuscany & Umbria, 5th edition
Map of San Damiano Convent, Assisi
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