On August 2, the Franciscan family celebrates the dedication of the chapel of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi.
Located down in the valley about two and half miles below the city of Assisi, this chapel, the beloved "Portiuncula" or "Little Portion," was restored by Francis in the first years of his conversion. It became the place where he and the first brothers made their home base about 1210. It is also where Francis received Clare into his movement a few years later and where he died in 1226. This shrine to Mary remains the spiritual “motherhouse” of the Order of Friars Minor.
In the interior of the chapel, the central scene on the wooden panel over the altar depicts the Annunciation, surrounded by the story of the granting of the Portiuncula Indulgence. In the top scene Francis kneels before Christ and Mary enthroned in heavenly glory. It was painted by Ilario of Viterbo in 1393.
Francis desired that everyone experience the overwhelming love and mercy of God in this place just as he had, and so, according to tradition, in 1216 he persuaded Pope Honorius III to grant a plenary indulgence to all persons who visit this chapel, prayerful and repentant, on the feast of its dedication. On August 2, thousands of pilgrims converge here to receive the "Pardon of Assisi," as this indulgence is commonly called in Italy.
Today this plenary indulgence may be gained in any Franciscan church or chapel and in all parish churches throughout the world from noon on August 1 through midnight on August 2.
To shelter the vast throngs of pilgrims coming to Assisi, Pope Pius V ordered that a large basilica be built to enclose the small chapel of the Portiuncula. This was constructed in the Mannerist style between 1569 and 1679, and rebuilt after a severe earthquake in 1832. The facade was restored in the 1920s.
Saint John Paul II once said the message of the Portiuncula Indulgence is one of “pardon and reconciliation, that is, of grace, which divine goodness pours out on us if we are well disposed because God is truly rich in mercy.”
Hail, O Lady,
Mary, holy Mother of God,
Who are the Virgin made Church,
chosen by the most Holy Father in heaven
whom he consecrated with His most holy beloved Son
and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete,
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.