I am alone. Five days have gone by on my trip to France and Italy, and my geography teacher lets me roam the streets of Assisi, Italy, alone. My Romanesque sandals aid my feet across the cobblestoned alleyways. I close my eyes and pretend I am blind, sliding my fingers across the concrete walls of stores and bakeries. The rest of the group crowd the attractive gift shops, but I look for the path unnoticed.
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As I turn the corner, I gasp at the glimpse of why our tour guide had brought us here, the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, where the patron is buried. I enter the guarded gates of what seems like a palace. The officers check my outfit to see if I am wearing suitable clothes and let me in gladly. Drifting with a crowd of people, I uncover a small door. My curiosity overtakes me as I inspect the masterpiece. To my dismay, it is locked, I turn around, and then I am alone again. I realize this is no accident; I am meant to discover the grounds alone.
Walking silently, I creep around the gate to find a storage room filled with torches, high wooden crosses, and a crucible with intricate designs. Unexpectedly, I spot a monk and turn to hide. He greets me kindly in Italian, a language I can barely pick up. I whisper shyly,
to warn him I am English. He directs me to the museum doors and I turn around and say,
“Francis, I wish to see him.”
He looks confused. I again say to him,
“Francis of Assisi, I know he is here.”
This time, I think he understands that I will not budge. The monk takes my hand and walks me down a staircase that reads in English, “NOT AN EXIT, AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.” Leading me down another staircase, only lit by candles, we come to an arched wooden door. He opens it and inside is the most spectacular yet unbelievably humble chapel I had ever seen. I recall six pews on each side, an aisle leading towards the priests table, and beyond that a tomb; the sepulcher is sealed and cloaked in the purest white cloth, embroidered and laced with flowers, animals, and crosses, and thereafter the monk points to the tomb and declares,
“Francis de Assisi.”
I take in that moment with absolute awe. The spiritual manifestation was above any other I had experienced before. Suddenly, we hear the ringing of bells loud and light, and the old man opens the doors for nuns who arrive and file into the pews. They stare at us as if we are not allowed to be there. I motion to the monk I wish to pray now and his face switches back and forth as if he was unsure if it were okay. He then holds up his wrinkled index finger from his robe and nods a yes. Swiftly kneeling to the ground in the midst of nuns and monks singing and praying in Latin, I shut my eyes, listening for God. After I whisper a Hail Mary, I stand up and say to the monk,
He quietly chuckles and leads me out the doors, up the stairs and back to the museum.
I nod to him and say
He smiles and waves as he returns to a couple of unknown doors.
In those two hours of Assisi, Italy, I returned to my innocence and connected to a place far away from home. I had to be lost, to be found.
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