Building Paradise on the Hill of Hell in Assisi: Mountain as Reliquary

Gunzburg, Darrelyn (2020) Building Paradise on the Hill of Hell in Assisi: Mountain as Reliquary. In: Space, Place, and Religious Landscapes: Living Mountains. Bloomsbury Academic, London, pp. 99-120. ISBN 9781350079885

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The town of Assisi in Umbria, Italy, located on a sloping and precipitous mountain ridge halfway up the dome-shaped, wood-covered sides of Mount Subasio, has long been known as the birthplace of Franciscanism. Today the Basilica that houses the human remains of St. Francis (c.1181/82-1226), the founder and leader of the Friars Minor, draws pilgrims and visitors alike, either to worship or admire the beauty of the architecture and fresco schemes. This influx of people makes Assisi one of Italy’s prime tourist attractions. It wasn’t always so. The journey to its transformation is also an exploration of the creation of a sacred and religious landscape via one man, St. Francis of Assisi, one of a handful of historical figures associated with a town and a mountain. This chapter thus investigates a unique human conversation with a mountain and how mountainous land that a community considered wild and barbaric can be changed by what they buried in it. It also explores what is believed about human remains that are buried, and how burials in such terrain affect a people’s activities around the mountain and thus change the dynamics between human and mountain. It centres around the events that occurred following the death of St. Francis and the desire by the Franciscan brothers to create a lasting monument to his memory via his human remains. St. Francis was considered to be a phenomenon of his time and his life was full of paradox. A small, dark, nuggety man, born to a wealthy cloth merchant, he was educated as a youth and dreamed of being a knight, yet in adulthood he lived a life of poverty, dressed only in tunic, rope belt, and sandals. Although actively engaged with towns, St. Francis sought inner peace in a hermitage at the Eremo delle Carceri four kilometres from Assisi, built on a rocky outcrop in a steep forest gorge 791 metres above sea level, and higher up the steep slopes of Mount Subasio. His other sanctuary was at La Verna, on Mount Penna, an isolated mountain of 1,283 metres situated 113 kilometres north-west of Assisi in the centre of the Tuscan Apennines above the valley of the Casentino in central Italy. He traversed a wide section of the Apennines and the places that he made his retreats created what Tim Ingold would call ‘a node in a matrix of trails.’ Living through the century that saw the rise of universities, he rejected scholarship and books. As economic wealth increased and the first ducats, florins, and gold crowns were minted, he had a deep loathing for money and the greed and avarice that it carried. He found inspiration in the natural world and he actively encouraged peace in a time full of turbulence and strife. He was instrumental in changing one of the major courses of philosophical religious thinking. In death, his final resting place—the extreme western flank of the town of Assisi, Italy—positioned the location as a pilgrimage site. As a result of this man and the afterlife of his body, a multitude of people drawn to his way of thinking, have engaged in differing conversations with this mountainous location. This chapter considers those ‘conversations’ through the themes of bodies, burials, and bones, and how mountain landscapes shape and are shaped by people who live amongst them and whose stories become mythically entwined with place and landscape.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: Saint Francis of Assisi Burial Mountains
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BV Practical Theology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Institutes and Academies > Institute of Education and Humanities > Academic Discipline: Humanities
Depositing User: Darrelyn Gunzburg
Date Deposited: 22 Apr 2021 08:30
Last Modified: 30 Apr 2021 01:02

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