St Francis basilica in Assisi reopens after earthquake damage repaired

THE UPPER Basilica of St Francis in Assisi reopened its doors yesterday, 26 months after the earthquake that shook central Italy, causing inestimable damage to art works, buildings and homes. The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, presided over a Mass to consecrate the new altar, in the presence of the Italian President, cabinet ministers, Franciscan friars, restorers and residents of Assisi.

It was a day of pride for the Franciscans and Catholics, for whom the basilica with its frescoes by Giotto and Cimabue is a place of worship. Critics who had said Italy would never be capable of restoring one of its most priceless art treasures on time were silenced.

In one of the tremors that damaged Umbria's rich cultural heritage, part of the vault crumbled, bringing down priceless frescoes and burying two friars and a couple of technicians beneath the rubble.

Two figures of saints painted by Giotto, Ruffino and Vittorino, are back in place above the basilica's entrance. Giotto's fresco cycle of The Life of Saint Francis has been laboriously cleaned, though the work is not complete. But what was once Cimabue's St Matthew in the Vault of the Evangelists lies in 120,000 fragments, and there are doubts about whether it will ever be restored.

But even on a day of celebration, the controversy over the human tragedy of the earthquake refused to go away. Thirty thousand people were made homeless and many are still living in makeshift camps in the Appenine foothills.

As they face their third winter in the snow, many are losing hope of ever returning home. "The earthquake victims will always be welcome because the Basilica of St Francis is also their home" said Father Nicola Giandomenico, of the Franciscan friars.

But many ask why the same level of resources and skill used to restore the basilica could not have been applied to helping residents. Hundreds of villages are still off limits for safety reasons and reconstruction projects are slow. "We are thrilled that the basilica has been reopened," said Sister Bernadette, of the Poor Clare sisters, in nearby Nocera Umbra. "But we can't forget the difficulties of those living in prefabs."

With just a month to go until the first pilgrims arrive in Italy for the Jubilee or Holy Year, the repair of one of the most important Catholic shrines is crucial. Assisi is the second most important site for pilgrims, after St Peter's in Rome, and the Franciscan friars, business community and the government fear that if the main attraction is still closed many visitors may not make the detour to the basilica.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there