The lovely Mannerist church of Santa Maria degli Angeli was built on the plain below hilltop Assisi and was over a century in the making between 1569 and 1679. It was commissioned by Pope Pio V to accommodate the influx of pilgrims to worship at the Cappella Porziuncola, the hermitage where St Francis prayed in the early 13th century and founded the order of Franciscan monks.
Designed by Perugian architect Galeazzo Alessi, Santa Maria degli Angeli is one of the biggest Christian churches in the world, measuring a whopping 126 m (413.25 ft) long and 65 m (213.25ft) wide. It has a barnlike central nave and side aisles lined with chapels; frescoes by 18th-century artist Andrea Appiani adorn the walls of the basilica. The original 13th-century Cappella Porziuncola sits directly underneath the
great central dome, now protected from the elements for posterity. The Cappella del Transito is close by and marks the exact spot where Francis died in 1226; it displays the saint’s simple rope belt and a terracotta portrait by Andrea della Robbia, executed in 1490. Both chapels are frescoed with scenes depicting his visions.
Outside the basilica is the Rose Garden, all that remains of the forests of Monte Subasio that surrounded Francis’s hermitage. The adjacent 15th-century friary houses the Porziuncola Museum, founded by Franciscan friars in 1924 and exhibiting religious art and reliquaries from the 13th and 14th centuries.
Via Porziuncola 1, Assisi. Open daily 10am–12.30pm, 2pm–6pm. Admission free. Regular bus services run from the center of hilltop Assisi.