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The Porziuncola. Porziuncola.jpg
The Porziuncola.

Porziuncola, also called Portiuncula (in Latin) or Porzioncula, is a small Catholic church located within the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi in the frazione of Santa Maria degli Angeli, situated about 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) from Assisi, Umbria (central Italy). It is the place from where the Franciscan movement started.

Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi Church in Assisi, Italy

The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels is a Papal minor basilica situated in the plain at the foot of the hill of Assisi, Italy, in the frazione of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Frazione is the Italian name given in administrative law to a type of territorial subdivision of a comune; for other administrative divisions, see municipio, circoscrizione, quartiere. It is cognate to the English word fraction, but in practice is roughly equivalent to "parishes" or "wards" in other countries.

Santa Maria degli Angeli (Assisi) Frazione in Umbria, Italy

Santa Maria degli Angeli is a frazione of the comune of Assisi in the Province of Perugia, Umbria, central Italy. It stands at an elevation of 218 metres above sea level. At the time of the Istat census of 2001 it had 6,665 inhabitants, and is located c. 4 km south from Assisi. The name of the city was used by the Spanish Franciscan missionaries as the name of Los Angeles, now one of the largest cities of the United States.


The name Porziuncola (meaning “small portion of land”) was first mentioned in a document from 1045, now in the archives of the Assisi Cathedral.

Assisi Cathedral cathedral San Rufino, Assisi

Assisi Cathedral, dedicated to San Rufino is a major church in Assisi, Italy. This stately church in Umbrian Romanesque style was the third church built on the same site to contain the remains of bishop Rufinus of Assisi, martyred in the 3rd century. The construction was started in 1140 to the designs by Giovanni da Gubbio, as attested by the wall inscription visible inside the apse. He may be the same Giovanni who designed the rose-window on the façade of Santa Maria Maggiore in 1163.


According to a legend, whose existence can be traced back with certainty only to 1645, the little chapel of Porziuncola was erected under Pope Liberius (352-366) by hermits from the Valley of Josaphat, who had brought relics from the grave of the Blessed Virgin. The same legend relates that the chapel passed into the possession of Benedict of Nursia in 516. It was known as Our Lady of the Valley of Josaphat or of the Angels - the latter title referring, according to some, to the assumption of Mary accompanied by angels; a better-founded opinion attributes the name to a legend attesting to the singing of angels which had been frequently heard there. [1]

Pope Liberius 4th-century Pope

Pope Liberius was Pope of the Catholic Church from 17 May 352 until his death on 24 September 366. According to the Catalogus Liberianus, he was consecrated on 22 May as the successor to Pope Julius I. He is not mentioned as a saint in the Roman Martyrology, making him the earliest pontiff not to be venerated as a saint in the Roman Rite. Liberius is mentioned in the Greek Menology, the Eastern equivalent to the martyrologies of the Western Church and a measure of sainthood prior to the institution of the formal Western processes of canonization.

Valley of Josaphat valley

The Valley of Josaphat is a Biblical place mentioned by name in Joel 3:2 and 3:12: "I will gather together all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Josaphat: "Then I will enter into judgment with them there", on behalf of my people and for My inheritance Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations and they have divided up My land."; "Let the nations be roused; Let the nations be aroused And come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side". This location is also referred to as the Valley of Decision.

Benedict of Nursia Christian saint and monk

Benedict of Nursia is a Christian saint venerated in the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion and Old Catholic Churches. He is a patron saint of Europe.

The chapel was located on a small portion of land ("Portiuncula") belonging to the Order of Saint Benedict of Monte Subasio. Later, the name of the land passed to the little church itself. [2] It was in bad condition, lying abandoned in a wood of oak trees.

Monte Subasio peak in the Apennines

Mount Subasio is a mountain of the Apennine mountains, in the province of Perugia, Umbria, central Italy. On its slopes are located the ancient towns of Assisi and Spello.

After a pilgrimage to Rome, where he begged at the church doors for the poor, Francis said he had had a mystical vision of Jesus Christ in the wayside chapel of San Damiano, about two miles outside of Assisi, in which the Icon of Christ Crucified came alive and said to him three times, "Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins". Francis took this literally to mean the ruined church in which he was presently praying, and so sold his horse and some cloth from his father's store, to assist the priest there for this purpose. His father Pietro, highly indignant, sought restitution. After a final interview in the presence of the bishop, Francis renounced his father and his patrimony, laying aside even the garments he had received from him. For the next couple of months he lived as a beggar in the region of Assisi. Returning to the town for two years this time, he restored several ruined churches, among them the Porziuncola, little chapel of St Mary of the Angels, just outside the town. [3]

Francis of Assisi Catholic saint and founder of the Franciscan Order

Saint Francis of Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, informally named as Francesco, was an Italian Catholic friar, deacon and preacher. He founded the men's Order of Friars Minor, the women's Order of Saint Clare, the Third Order of Saint Francis and the Custody of the Holy Land. Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.

Francis built himself a small hut near the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels and was soon joined by others. Here he founded the Franciscans. Around 1211 the small chapel was given to Francis by the abbot of Saint Benedict of Monte Subasio on condition of making it the mother house of his religious family. On Palm Sunday 1211 St. Francis received in this church Clare of Assisi and founded the Second Order of the Poor Ladies Poor Clares. Adjoining this humble sanctuary, already dear to Francis, the first Franciscan convent was formed by the erection of a few small huts or cells of wattle, straw, and mud, and enclosed by a hedge. [3]

Abbot Religious title

Abbot, meaning father, is an ecclesiastical title given to the male head of a monastery in various traditions, including Christianity. The office may also be given as an honorary title to a clergyman who is not the head of a monastery. The female equivalent is abbess.

Clare of Assisi Italian saint

Saint Clare of Assisi is an Italian saint and one of the first followers of Saint Francis of Assisi. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, a monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition, and wrote their Rule of Life, the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman. Following her death, the order she founded was renamed in her honour as the Order of Saint Clare, commonly referred to today as the Poor Clares. Her feast day is on 11 August.

Poor Clares Catholic order of convent nuns

The Poor Clares, officially the Order of Saint Clare – originally referred to as the Order of Poor Ladies, and later the Clarisses, the Minoresses, the Franciscan Clarist Order, and the Second Order of Saint Francis – are members of a contemplative Order of nuns in the Catholic Church. The Poor Clares were the second Franciscan branch of the order to be established. Founded by Saints Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi on Palm Sunday in the year 1212, they were organized after the Order of Friars Minor, and before the Third Order of Saint Francis for the laity. As of 2011 there were over 20,000 Poor Clare nuns in over 75 countries throughout the world. They follow several different observances and are organized into federations.

The miracle of the Porziuncola; painting by Antonio de Oliveira Bernardes (1698); Cathedral of Evora, Portugal. Evora66.jpg
The miracle of the Porziuncola; painting by Antonio de Oliveira Bernardes (1698); Cathedral of Évora, Portugal.

The General Chapters, the annual meetings of the friars, were held in this church usually during Pentecost (months of May - June).

Feeling his end approaching, St. Francis asked to be brought back to the Porziuncola in September 1226. On his death-bed St. Francis recommended the chapel to the faithful protection and care of his brethren. He died, in his cell, not fifteen yards from the church, at sunset on Saturday, 3 October 1226.

However this may be, here or in this neighbourhood was the cradle of the Franciscan Order. After the death of Francis, the spiritual value and the charisma of the Porziuncola became even greater. St. Francis himself pointed out the Portiuncola as a primary source of inspiration and a model for all his followers.

Later developments

Concerning the form and plan of the first monastery built near the chapel we have no information, nor is the exact form of the loggia or platforms built round the chapel itself, or of the choir for the brothers built behind it, known. Shortly after 1290, the chapel, which measured only about 5.5 by 3.2 m, became entirely inadequate to accommodate the throngs of pilgrims. The altar piece, an Annunciation, was painted by the priest Hilarius of Viterbo in 1393. The monastery was at most the residence, only for a short time, of the ministers-general of the order after St. Francis. In 1415 it first became associated with the Regular Observance, in the care of which it remains to the present day.

Side view of the Porziuncola. S.Maria.degli.Angeli17.jpg
Side view of the Porziuncola.

Decorations of the Porziuncola

This tiny church is exquisitely decorated by artists from different periods. On the façade, above the entrance outside, is a fresco by Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1829), depicting St Francis receiving from the Christ and the Virgin the indulgence, known as the “Pardon of Assisi”. The German painter Overbeck was a member of the Nazarene movement, a group of painters who aimed to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art. At the base of this fresco is a small rectangular fresco beneath which are the Latin words Haec est porta vitae aeternae ("This is the gate to eternal life")

St. Francis receiving the Pardon of Assisi by F. Overbeck. S.M.degli.Angeli024.jpg
St. Francis receiving the Pardon of Assisi by F. Overbeck.

The outside wall to the right of the entrance shows fragments of two frescoes by unknown Umbrian artists. In the 19th century a door was opened in the same wall, to control the flow of pilgrims. The left outside wall includes the tombstone of Pietro Cattani, who died on 10 March 1221. (St. Francis was still alive at the time of his death). At the back, above the entrance, is the fresco Crucifixion by Perugino, painted around 1485. It was badly damaged during the construction of the basilica. The 15th century door is decorated with floral motifs. On top of the Porziuncola stands a small Gothic belfry.

The interior is austere and simple. Some of the rough, squared stones, taken from Mount Subasio, were put in place by the saint himself while repairing this little church. It is decorated in a simple Gothic style with frescoes from the 14th and the 15th century. But the masterpiece is the six-part fresco in the apse of this little church, painted by the priest Ilario da Viterbo (1393):

The pavement on the floor is now restored to its original appearance by the restorations following the earthquake of 1997.

Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli

The buildings which had been gradually added to the shrine were taken down by order of Pope Pius V (1566–1572), 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 the cell just mentioned and over the Portiuncula chapel, which is situated immediately under the cupola. The basilica, which has three naves and a circle of chapels extending along the entire length of the aisles, was completed (1569–78) according to the plans of Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, assisted by Galeazzo Alessi.

In the night of 15 March 1832, the arch of the three naves and of the choir fell in, in consequence of an earthquake, the cupola sporting a big crack. Gregory XVI had all restored in 1836-1840), and on 8 September 1840, the basilica was reconsecrated by Cardinal Lambruschini. By Brief of 11 April 1909, Pope Pius X raised it to a "patriarchal basilica and papal chapel". The high altar was therefore immediately rebuilt at the expense of the Franciscan province of the Holy Cross (also known as the Saxon province), and a papal throne added. Under the bay of the choir, resting against the columns of the cupola, is still preserved the cell in which St. Francis died, while, 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 the saint received the Porziuncola Indulgence.

Feast Day and Porziuncola Indulgence

Franciscans continue to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Angels of the Porzioncula on August 2, [4] which marks the dedication of the church. [5]

The Porziuncola Indulgence could at first be gained only in the Porziuncola chapel between the afternoon of 1 August and sunset on 2 August. On 5 August 1480 (or 1481), Pope Sixtus IV extended it to all churches of the first and second orders of St. Francis for Franciscans. On 4 July 1622, Gregory XV extended the privilege to all the faithful, who, after confession and the reception of Holy Communion, visited such churches on the appointed day. On 12 October 1622, Gregory XV granted the same privilege to all the churches of the Capuchins. Pope Urban VIII granted it for all churches of the regular Third Order on 13 January 1643, and Clement X for all churches of the Conventuals on 3 October 1670.

While papal declarations made the Porziuncola Indulgence indisputable from the juridico-canonistic standpoint, its historical authenticity (i.e. origin from St. Francis) remains in question. None of the old legends of St. Francis mentions the Indulgence, nor does any contemporary document mention it. The oldest document mentioning the Indulgence is a notary's deed of 31 October 1277, in which Blessed Benedict of Arezzo (whom St. Francis himself received into the order) testifies that he had been informed by Brother Masseo (a companion of St. Francis) that Pope Honorius III granted the indulgence at Perugia. Later testimonies include those of Jacob Cappoli concerning Brother Leo, of Oddo of Acquasparta, Peter Zalfani, Peter John Olivi (who wrote a scholastic tract defending this indulgence about 1279), John of Laverna, Ubertino da Casale, and Francis of Fabriano (whose testimony goes back to the year 1268).

Later popes extended the privilege to all churches pertaining in any way to the Franciscan Order, even to churches in which the Third Order held its meetings (even parish churches, etc.), provided that there was no Franciscan church in the district, and that such a church was distant over an Italian mile (1000 paces). Even districts and countries could receive special privileges.

Pope Paul VI completely reformed the grants of indulgences, after the Second Vatican Council. His Apostolic Constitution "Indulgentiarum Doctrina" (1967), yet again confirmed the Portiuncula Indulgence. According to the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum, Catholic faithful may gain a plenary indulgence on 2 August (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. [2]

Porziuncola in America

In San Francisco, California, there is a replica of the Porziuncola Chapel. The Archdiocese of San Francisco built a 78% scale copy of the original chapel in a former gymnasium adjoining the Church of the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi in The City's North Beach District. It opened in September 2008 and in 2010 was placed under the care of the Capuchin Franciscan friars of the Western American Province. [6]

Other replicas exist within the United States of America including:

In addition, the city of Los Angeles was (indirectly) named for it: "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula". See Los Angeles River#History for background.

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  1. Bihl, Michael. "Portiuncula." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 28 Apr. 2014
  2. 1 2 "The Portiuncula Indulgence". Franciscan Friars, TOR. Retrieved 2010-10-06.
  3. 1 2 Robinson, Paschal. "St. Francis of Assisi." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 29 Apr. 2014
  4. "Franciscan Feast Days". The Franciscans of Mary the Theotokos. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  5. Bunderson, Carl. "On Aug. 2, you can get this St. Francis-themed indulgence", Catholic News agency, August 2, 2013
  6. National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi