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Isola Maggiore, Italy

At approximately 4 hectares, ISOLA MAGGIORE is the second largest island on Lake Trasimeno, in Umbria, central Italy. It is the only inhabited island on the lake with a population of 17 full-time residents (as of September 2015).

Saint Francis spent some time on the Isola Maggiore. Facts and legends related to the island are woven together in his official biography written by Thomas of Celano in 1246. We know for a fact that in 1211, Francis, who was staying on Lake Trasimeno as the guest of a friend, decided to spend an entire Lent on the island just praying and fasting. He reached the island with only two loaves of bread for the whole stay. When he came back to the mainland forty days later, he still had with him one and a half loaves.

And a legend tells us about a wild rabbit, captured by someone living on the island and given to Francis as a gift, but instead of eating it he kept it as a loved pet and then let it free to run away but several times the rabbit, instead of running off into the woods, jumped back into Francis’ arms.
The most famous story about Francis on the lake is, however, that of the calmed storm. It is recorded that when he was crossing the lake at the end of his fast, a fierce storm blew up and Francis, who was holding a lighted candle in spite of the strong wind, miraculously quietened the wrath of the water and calmed the waves. The boatman who was transporting him was so struck by this event that he broke his vow of silence and divulged the story about the Saint and his stay on Isola Maggiore. The island, began to attract visitors and settlers. Soon other friars arrived to live and preach there.

Today a statue of St. Francis marks the point where he stepped ashore to begin his forty-day fast. Close by is a shine which marks the spot where he dug for and found spring water. Above the beach is a a small cave enclosed by a small building where St. Francis is said to have slept in 1211.

The Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo was built on the islands highest point in the 12th century. Most likely Francis visited this church. After the establishment of a Franciscan Monastery on the island in 1328, Franciscan brothers were strongly connected to this church. Today the church features many fine Umbrian school frescos.

The island's only village reached its height in the 14th century, after the establishment of a Franciscan Monastery is 1328. (The Guglielmi castle, which today dominates the south end of the island, was built on the monastery site in the 1880s. It has since fallen into disrepair.) Most of the towns buildings date back to the 14th and 16th centuries. By the 1800s the town had a population of 700 but was in decline. As of October, 2015, there are only 17 full-time residents on the island.

Isola Maggiore may only be reached by ferry. Those spending time in nearby Assisi can take a train to Passignano sul Trasimeno and take the ferry from there.

Quoting from the translated notes on Youtube, the video, “L'isola di San Francesco”, published on April 26, 2015, offers a spiritual journey through the places linked to the memory of the passage of St. Francis and the evidence left by the Franciscan friars at a later date.

St. Francis went to the island to spend in solitude and prayer Lent of 1211. He brought with him two loaves of bread and ate no more than one half of one of these. He landed on the eastern side, the most wild and inhospitable, where he found the serenity he sought to "contemplate heavenly things". According to tradition, crossing the lake Trasimeno, Saint Francis encountered a storm miraculously subsided.

Following the stay of the saint, Franciscan monks settled on the island by building the monastery and the church, where they remained until the second half of the nineteenth century. Their presence is still alive today in the works of art that can be admired in Pieve di San Michele Arcangelo, built in the twelfth century, and in the Casa del Capitano del Popolo, which houses the central part of a triptych and a golden wooden cross processional, both made in the fifteenth century.

A guided tour by an operator will take you to rediscover the Franciscan traces on the island.

For info and reservations:

• Information Office: 075.8254233
• Michela: 328.4546383

During a visit to Pieve di San Michele Arcangelo by six Secular Franciscans from Vancouver in October 2015, Michela took time to explain in detail the Franciscan connection to San Michele and the significance of the cross and frescoes visible in the church. Michela explained she was a volunteer and would not accept money for her services.

 

Isole Maggiore

Photos