Upper church: Bay 3



North Wall

Old Testament scenes. Top register: The creation of Eve, the Original Sin. Middle register: sacrifice of Abraham, visitation of angels to Abraham. Genesis  18.3
Franciscan scenes: 4 Saint Francis prays before the crucifix in San Damiano. 5. Francis renounces worldly goods. 6. The dream of Pope Innocent III.
  The San Damiano crucifix can still be seen; it is in the church of Santa Chiara, up the hill from San Damiano. According to legend, and to Bonaventure, the crucifix spoke to Francis, saying 'Francis, go and repair My House, which, as you see, is falling into ruin.' At that time San Damiano was indeed in a state of ruin, as seen in the fresco, and Francis set about the repairs. But the message wasn't limited to fixing a small building; the voice of the crucifix had the whole church in mind, and the repairs needed to be spiritual rather than physical.
  In the second image Francis rejects his father (the main figure on the left) and casts of his clothes. His action is supported by the Bishop of Assisi, behind Francis, who covers his nakedness. He is included to demonstrate that Francis's behaviour is not heretical, but has the approval of the church. 
  As usual, the third image requires a little more explanation. It was necessary for Francis's new movement to gain the approval of the Pope and the Cardinals. Pope Innocent III was in a difficult position; he was impressed with Francis, but not all of the cardinals were. At this point he had a vision: the Lateran church (representing the church as a whole) was falling down. Single-handedly, ' a poor little  man, of mean stature and humble aspect, propped it up with his own back, and saved it from falling'. (Bonaventure III 10)
  This bay is putting Francis forward as a new Abraham. Parallels with the life of Abraham are put forward; the idea that faith comes before family, (Abraham was told to leave his father and head for the promised land, and agreed to sacrifice his own son) and sharing what you have with others. (The story of the angels tells us of how Abraham gave bread to apparent strangers.) There are deeper links: Abraham the patriarch, descendent of Noah in the previous bay, offers another new beginning, the promised land. This is Francis's task also, so that finally that original sin in the top register can be absolved. 

South wall


New Testament scenes: Top register: Adoration of the Magi, Nativity. Middle register: Christ before Pilate (lost) The arrest of Christ.  
Franciscan scenes: 23. The mourning of the Poor Clares  24. The canonisation of St Francis.  25. The appearance of Francis to Pope Gregory IX.

The nativity is, of course, another beginning: Christ the new Abraham, Francis the new Christ.  The scene of the mourning of the Poor Clares clearly links with the Adoration of the Magi above. 
  Pope Gregory IX was sceptical about the stigmata on the body of Francis; in this scene, although he touches the stigmata in the hands of Francis, he does not wake up. Rather like Pilate above, he remains unconvinced. This contrasts with the vision of Innocent III on the opposite wall. 

The vault

                   Christ Blessing                                          The Virgin Mary                                        John the Baptist                                           St Francis
This fresco raises the humble Francis to a new level; here he joins the company of the leading intercessors, Christ, the Virgin, and John the Baptist.

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