St Francis was very special. We got to go to Assisi and see the original little chapel (known as Porziuncola) that he built, which is housed in the Basilica dedicated to St Mary of the angels. This is the 7th largest church in all of Christianity, and the 4th largest church in Italy, so you may be able to imagine how big it is. The facade is ‘new’, a they say, having been created in the 1300’s. We did not spend a ton of time down there (it is not in the famous hill town) because town itself and the giant basilica where he is buried has more to offer by way of interesting and important things to see. The Porziuncola is quite special and we had to take the opportunity to see it, and everyone loved it. I watched the looks on their faces as they began to realize what they were looking at and that was a highlight of the trip for me! Our guide was very interesting and knowledgable, with a touch of theatrical for fun. He took us up the hill to the basilica dedicated to St Francis and we spent a while touring it because it is 3 floors and contains quite a lot of important art, history, and of course the body of St Francis. What a remarkable man he was! He helped put Cortona, Tuscany, Assisi and Umbria on ‘the map’ in many ways, and founded the Franciscan Order, the Order of the St Clares, and the 3rd Order… in other words he was a busy man. His teachings reach across and beyond all religion, as he truly understood the theory of relativity, and our ‘oneness’ with everything.
After the tour Mark and I walked up the hill town to enjoy a gelato, an espresso, and then further on a glass of local wine in a cute little shop in an alley. We joined back up with the group to head over to the Terre Margaritelli estate for a winery tour, cooking class, and dinner. Jennifer McIlvaine moved to Umbria 6 years ago to join her now husband Federico Bibi, who was making olive oil for several years. (We use his Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the cafe, for finishing our soups, salads and other dishes whenever we need a premium olive oil.) She was an accomplished chef and now they have the perfect trilogy: Cooking, Olive Oil and great wine! We got a winery tour after the cooking class and learned about the estate’s organic practices and small wine production. Our cooking lesson included an Umbrian flatbread that was cooked on the stove, stringozzi pasta with 1/2 farro flour and a mushroom ragu, roasted sausages and grapes, and tiramisu. Dinner was delicious! During the tour Doumina conspired via Skype with our friend Rob from Ambrosia Wine Importers. We finalized plans to have Federico come to the cafe on November 7th in the afternoon for a winemaker’s lunch and tasting. It will be so fun and we hope you can stop by!
The trip back was another beautiful drive through the countryside, and since Stephania (of Sunday’s olive grove) had joined us for the day, she told us stories about St Maraget, who followed in Francis’ footsteps and is the saint that the Cortonese Basilica is dedicated to. Stephania’s voice is so lovely and the story compelling, so we thoroughly enjoyed it and were sad to see her leave us when we got back to town. Tomorrow is our final full day together.