The exterior of the basilica is notable for its horizontal stripes of pink and white stone and its campanile, which is the tallest in Assisi. Inside, the walls of the dimly lit nave are now white, although they were covered in frescoes until the 17th century. Elsewhere in the church, frescoes dating to the 13th and 14th centuries still remain. To the south of the nave is a small chapel that holds the 12th century crucifix that is said to have spoken to Saint Francis of Assisi.
Despite its modest white façade, flanked by four simple Doric pilasters, the Chiesa Nuova, or New Church, is one of Assisi’s most historically important churches, founded on the site of the house of Saint Francis’ home and birthplace. A church has stood on this spot since the 14th century, but the modern-day structure dates back to the early 17th century, when it was built under patronage of King Philip III of Spain, and has since become a significant landmark for pilgrims. The most notable features of the Renaissance-style Chiesa Nuova are the colorful frescoes by Cesare Sermei and Giacomo Giorgetti that adorn the interiors and the adjoining museum and library that offer greater insight into the site’s unique history.
The town of Assisi in Umbria is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Europe, thanks to the saint who was born – and is buried – there. When Saint Francis, founder of the Franciscan Order, died in 1226, plans for a basilica dedicated to him were begun. Construction of the Basilica di San Francesco started in 1228, and the basilica was consecrated in 1253. It is actually a complex of two churches, an upper and lower, built into a hillside. The interiors of both churches were frescoed by artists of the era whose names are familiar to us today – including Giotto and Cimabue. St. Francis' tomb is in the crypt, and is what both pilgrims and tourists line up to see. In 1997, two earthquakes hit Umbria within minutes of one another, but it was an aftershock that shook the basilica in Assisi. Many of the original Giotto frescoes in the Upper Basilica were destroyed, and the vault collapsed, killing four people. The church was closed until 1999 while restoration work took place.