Whenever I need a little Italy fix, I head to North Beach in San Francisco. Here I can connect with my Italian roots – Italian is heard everywhere, the deli sells specialty items imported from Italy, the bakery entices me with wonderful espresso and goodies, and I can eat some wonderful Italian food in restaurants that are quaint and very similar to those found in il Bel Paese. And now, since 2008, I can even see an exact replica of the famous Porziuncola of Assisi. Because San Francisco’s patron saint is St. Francis of Assisi, this was a logical place to build this place of devotion so important to the life of St. Francis.
This project came to fruition thanks to Angela Alioto, one of San Francisco’s most influential politicians and a follower of St. Francis. She dreamed of bringing this little bit of Italy to her city. So, with the blessing of the Franciscan fathers, marble and rocks from Assisi, as well as frescoes created by Italian artists in a little Umbrian town, all came together to build and decorate this shrine.
St. Francis originally built his Porziuncola to show his adoration for God. Today it stands as a reminder of peace and love. The Friars of Assisi donated a special holy rock for this new Porziuncola that was used by St. Francis himself when he built his holy chapel. It symbolizes all St. Francis held dear – global peace, love of the world and all its creatures, and love for the poor and the sick. The rock holds a special place of honor at the front of the chapel where it can be seen and touched. This chapel, like the one in Assisi, is a holy place consecrated by the Pope. It is a place where one can ask for “Plenary Indulgence.” Upon entering the chapel and going through some cleansing steps of confession, your sins will be instantly forgiven.
The church which houses the Porziuncola, St. Francis of Assisi in North Beach, sits on a street that will be transformed into a piazza within the next couple of years. The plan is to close off the street to traffic and create a piazza like those found in Italy. This statue will adorn the piazza, and it will be created by a famous Italian sculptor. It is a recreation of St. Francis stretching the sails on a boat during his voyage to Egypt. Being that San Francisco is a maritime city, this depiction of St. Francis’ life seemed to be an appropriate choice.
The word “porziuncola” means “a little portion of the world” and this has become one of my little portions of Italy.