Treasures of the Church- Holy Sites

Portiuncula: in the basilica of our lady of the angels

Portiuncula is a town and a parish situated about three-quarters of a mile from Assisi. The town has grown up around the basilica church of Our Lady of the Angels. It was in this Basilica that St. Francis of Assisi recognized his vocation in the year 1208, and it was this town where St. Francis spent most of his life. In 1211, St. Francis obtained a permanent foothold in this town near Assisi, through the generosity of the Benedictines, who gave them the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels or the Portiuncula, is a “little portion” of land.

As St. Francis knelt in a small, broken down chapel of St. Damien’s, he felt Christ speak to him from the crucifix, which told him to “Rebuild my church which is falling into ruins.” He took this command literally and began to rebuild various churches. It was only later that St. Francis realized that the heart of Christ’s message to him was to spiritually rebuild and strengthen Christ’s church. He thus began to repair St. Damien’s chapel where he received the message, in addition to San Pietro della spina and Our Lady of the Angels, the Portiuncula.
Adjoining the humble sanctuary of Portiuncula, the first Franciscan convent was formed by the erection of a few small huts or cells of straw and mud, and enclosed by a hedge. This settlement was the beginning of the Franciscan Order. The Portiuncula was also where St. Francis received the vows of St. Clare. St. Francis died here on October 3, 1226, and on his death-bed he recommended the chapel to the faithful protection and care of his brothers.

Shortly after 1290, the chapel, which measured only about twenty-two feet by thirteen and a half, was greatly enlarged in order to accommodate the many pilgrims that came to visit there. Later, the buildings around the shrine were taken down by order of Pius V (1566-72), except the cell in which St. Francis had died, and were replaced by a large basilica in contemporary style. The new edifice was erected over his cell and over the Portiuncula chapel. The basilica now has three naves and a circle of chapels extending along the entire length of the aisles. The basilica forms a Latin cross 416 feet long by 210 feet wide. The altar piece in the chapel is of the Annunciation, which was painted by a priest in 1393. One can still visit the cell in which St. Francis died. A little behind the sacristy is the spot where the saint, during a temptation, is said to have rolled in a briar-bush, which was then changed into thornless roses. During this same night of August 2 the saint received the Portiuncula Indulgence. There is a representation of the reception of this Indulgence on the facade of the Portiuncula chapel.

It is related that once, while Francis was praying at the Portiuncula, Christ appeared to him and offered him whatever favor he might want. The salvation of souls was ever in St. Francis’ prayers, and wishing to make his beloved Portiuncula a sanctuary where many might be saved, he begged a plenary Indulgence for all who, having confessed their sins, should visit the little chapel. Our Lord acceded to this request on condition that the pope should ratify the indulgence. St. Francis thereupon set out for Perugia with one of his brothers to find Honorius III. The latter, notwithstanding some opposition from the Curia at such an unheard-of favor, granted the Indulgence, restricting it, however, to one day yearly. He subsequently fixed August 2 as the day for gaining this Indulgence, commonly known in Italy as il perdono d'Assisi. Such is the traditional account of the story.

The Catholic faithful may gain a plenary indulgence on August 2 (the Portiuncula) or on such other day as designated by the local ordinary for the advantage of the faithful, under the usual conditions (sacramental Confession, Holy Communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff), by devoutly visiting the parish church, and there reciting at least the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. The Indulgence applies to the cathedral church of the diocese, and to the co-cathedral church (if there is one), even if they are not parochial, and also to quasi-parochial churches. To gain this, as any plenary indulgence, the faithful must be free from any attachment to sin, even venial sin. Where this entire detachment is wanting, the indulgence is partial.


New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, St. Francis:

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, Portiuncula:



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