Immediately after St. Francis’ canonization, on July 16, 1228, Pope Gregory IX ordered that a specialis ecclesia, a Basilica, should be built in Assisi where the mortal remains of the Seraphic Father are preserved.
The Pontiff himself blessed the cornerstone and in 1230 commanded that the body of the Saint be transported from the church of San Giorgio to the new Basilica. He named the basilica the “Head and Mother” of the Order of Minors. Innocent IV solemnly consecrated it in 1253.
Here below is the text found in the Office of Readings, taken from the Constitution Fidelis Dominus of Pope Benedict XIV:
“The Lord keeps his word. In Holy Scripture he frequently declares that he will exalt those whom he finds like to his Son in humility. Not only does he crown them with marvelous glory and honor in the kingdom of heaven but here on earth as well. Thus their memory enshrined in honor and glory arouses and strengthens men’s faith. We clearly see this promise fulfilled in the exaltation of Saint Francis.
While on earth it was his constant endeavor to be held in low esteem by himself and by others. Through the unalterable decision of the Church he has already been honored and venerated for centuries with highest praise throughout the world as one reigning in heaven among God’s friends. In body, Francis never ceased to carry about the dying of Christ. At his death, that body was made resplendent with extraordinary signs and marvels from heaven. It was so venerated by the devotion of the people that his sepulcher became more glorious than the pretentious monuments of powerful worldlings.
Scarcely a year after the death of Francis, a place for the remains of the Servant of God was under consideration. When a suitable location near the walls of Assisi had been offered, our predecessor Gregory IX accepted the place as the property of the Apostolic See. Moreover he decreed that the church to be erected thereon should be subject to the Apostolic See alone.
Later, after the same Pope Gregory had enrolled the glorious patriarch in the catalogue of saints at Assisi, he personally laid the cornerstone of the church and declared it to be the chief and mother church of the Order of Friars Minor.
After the body of Saint Francis was transferred there with memorable solemnity and the church was completed Pope Innocent IV solemnly consecrated it on the Sunday before the feast of the Ascension of our Lord in the year 1253.
Following the example of so many of our predecessors we too have been willingly led to add to the splendor and honor of this church. This is the chief reason that motivated us: We concluded that the more the Apostolic See honored the memory of Saint Francis, the more could the Roman Church hope for greater protection through his intercession. Therefore, by means of this our constitution, valid in perpetuity, we raise the aforesaid church to the dignity of a Patriarchal Basilica and Papal Chapel.”.
Photo: Friar Ryszard WRÓBEL, OFM Conv.