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The Franciscan Shrine at Pian d'Arca

[image ALT: A modern shrine, a little over one meter on a side, of brick with a tile image of St. Francis preaching to the birds, with a projecting sloping tiled roof to keep off the rain. The shrine is in a beautiful small enclosure with a young oak to the left and three young cypresses to the right. It is a frontal view of the Franciscan shrine at Pian d'Arca near Cannara, Umbria (central Italy).]

Behind almost every roadside shrine in Italy there's a story; while only some few are great art, almost all are attractive, and one might learn a lot on a trip of two weeks chasing down these edicole, to give them their Italian name. There are well over a hundred thousand such shrines thruout Italy, and for the most part they are resolutely local, commemorating something that happened in the immediate area: the thanks of a village bypassed by the plague, the memory of a pair of young boys who drowned or a priest shot by Nazi troops, or simply the love of God and country expressed by a landowner.

Here too at Pian d'Arca, in the township of Cannara between the town proper (some 3 km NE) and, to the southeast, Cantalupo, the nearest village (1 km or so), and Bevagna (6 km), the event is local — except that the local boy was St. Francis, from Assisi not 20 km N of here. His name spread to the farthest confines of Christendom in two or three decades, though; so the edicola is a bit bigger and grander than usual. The event is the celebrated Miracle of the Birds: Francis, on the road between Cannara and Bevagna leaves his companions, and, as recorded in detail in the Fioretti, the Little Flowers of St. Francis: "You will wait for me here in the road, and I will go preach to my little sisters the birds." They listened.

[image ALT: A marble plaque with an inscription on the Franciscan shrine at Pian d'Arca near Cannara, Umbria (central Italy); the text is given and translated on this webpage.]

In questo luogo santo Francesco insegnò le laudi di Dio
creatore alle sue sirocchie uccelli si dicendo loro,
voi non seminate e non mietete e Iddio vi pasce
e davvi i fiumi e le fonti per vostro bere davvi i monti e le valli
per vostro rifugio e gli alberi alti per fare il vostro nido
ed essi con meravigliosi canti da lui si partirono
per annunziare al mondo il verbo della vita rinnoverata
nella fede della divina Provvidenza

In this holy place Francis taught the praise of God
the Creator to his little sisters the birds, telling them,
"You neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you
and gives you the rivers and springs for your drink, gives you the mountains and valleys
for your refuge, and the high trees to make your nests."
And they with marvelous songs left him
to announce to the world the Word of renewed life
in the faith of divine Providence.

Now I like certainty as much as the next guy; but unfortunately, we don't actually know where this miracle occurred, and there are several other candidates in other sources: those with an appetite for the details and the controversies can read them in Chapter 16 of the Fioretti (partly quoted above), with my note at the foot of that page; but here is maybe not the place for it, rather a chance to soak in the peace of the spot and reflect on why most of us are not as good listeners as birds.

[image ALT: A small brick and terracotta niche in the shape of a Gothic arch. The inside of the niche is painted with a depiction of a haloed monk, standing, with a swallow alighting on his right shoulder. The arch above him is carved with nine stylized swallows. It is the central portion of the Franciscan shrine at Pian d'Arca near Cannara, Umbria (central Italy).]
[image ALT: A brick structure, about a meter wide and 1 meter deep, maybe 3 meters tall, with a gently sloping tiled roof. All we see is a wall with a slightly recessed vertical rectangle in the center, to which a plaque has been attached. It is a rear view of the Franciscan shrine at Pian d'Arca near Cannara, Umbria (central Italy).]
Front and back: St. Francis — notice the curious swallows on the arch above him — and a better sense of scale and context: in the background we get a glimpse of the road (SP 403) from Bevagna, to our left, to Cannara, on our right.

This was just about the last place I'd ever expect to see a bit of feminism, but here it is:

[image ALT: A small marble plaque on a brick wall. It is the dedication plaque on the Franciscan shrine at Pian d'Arca near Cannara, Umbria (central Italy); the text is given and commented on this webpage.]

Rosmunda Salucci,
coadiuvata da padre
Francesco Cucchi,
ha provveduto al
restauro di questo
Sacro Ricordo

Rosmunda Salucci,
assisted by Father
Francesco Cucchi,
provided for the
restoration of this
Sacred Memorial.

It is such an unusual inscription — in how many Catholic parishes is the priest said to be assisting a woman parishioner rather than vice-versa? — that it almost certainly reflects the exact situation: the initiative of the parishioner, the good sense and humility of the priest. The edicola was built in 1926; I would have liked them to have included the date of the restoration.

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Page updated: 6 Mar 07