There are many shrines of Franciscan saints throughout the world. Assisi holds a special place in the hearts of Franciscans because this is where Francis was born, where he continued to live during the early years of his conversion when he was discerning what to do, and for much of the rest of his life, and where he died. It is where Clare of Assisi lived her whole religious life. So in addition to the cathedral of San Rufino, patron saint of Assisi, there are two basilicas – the Basilica of St Francis and the Basilica of St Clare, where their respective tombs are situated. It was not until the nineteenth century that the tombs were discovered. At the time of their deaths the bodies of holy people were jealously guarded, relics were sought after and so local people were careful to keep the precise place of the tomb secret.
A little outside the ancient walls of Assisi, in the plain below the city, there is another basilica: the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels), which houses the Porziuncola, one of the three churches rebuilt by Francis. By the Porziuncola, Francis and the early friars built huts to house the first community of Franciscan friars.
There are many other Franciscan shrines in and around Assisi. Pilgrims often discover a favorite shrine or spot on their visit. In England the remains of many Franciscan friaries can be found. At Canterbury there is a tiny building called Greyfriars, one of the places where the first Franciscan missionaries stayed. London has what remains of Christ Church, Greyfriars which can be seen close to St Pauls. In north Wales the Capuchin friars have a shrine at Pantasaph friary in honour of St Pio (Padre Pio). St Patrick’s Church in Edinburgh is the major shrine of the Venerable Margaret Sinclair, an extern sister in the order of the Poor Clares, who died in 1925.
Franciscans help care for various holy places in the world. One example is Custodia Terrae Sanctae, part of the Order of the Friars Minor who, since the 13th Century, writes Pope Paul VI: “have remained in the Land of Jesus, to serve the local Church and to look after, restore and protect the Holy Places of Christianity.” The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL), an ecumenical organization founded in 1994, and based in the USA, also aims to help Christians to continue living in the Holy Land. The FFHL operates under the auspices of the Custodia.
Franciscan religious have served as missionaries in many countries throughout the world and there are shrines in many of these places. Often a community will have a specific apostolate and serve a very local area – one example is helping families where AIDS has left orphans. Many Franciscan communities in Africa serve AIDS families and victims.
Basilica of St Francis
Basilica of St Clare
Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels) / The Porziuncola
Christ Church, Greyfriars. London
Shrine of the Venerable Margaret Sinclair, St Patrick’s Church, Edinburgh
Custodia Terrae Sanctae
Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land