The province of Umbria forms a broad fertile plain in the centre of Italy through which the River Tiber runs south towards Rome. Along the eastern rim of this plain lie the Apennine Marches, and one of those great mountain shoulders heaved up above the valley is called Monte Subasio. On its lower slopes, facing west across the rich plain, stand several small fortified towns, of which the most famous by far is Assisi. Francis, who was born there in 1182, is the man who put this town on the map. And he continues to draw the crowds, whether pilgrim or tourist, from every corner of the world.
Sitting here in a busy cafe next to the main fountain, I can tell you that the cappuccinos are good. The small lanes of Assisi are full of both locals and visitors, alongside a lot of men and women in brown habits and open-toed sandals. When Brother Giles, a friend who is a Franciscan friar, visited me in Copenhagen last year, he was stared at on the streets of the city as he walked along dressed like this. Here in Assisi, dog collars and habits, and sandals and crosses, are the norm. The tourist shops have a strange mixture of wooden Pinocchio toys with long noses (he was another famous local, but with different moral standards!), catapults and knives, alongside icons and plastic models of Saint Francis of Assisi. This is a holy place, yes. But the real world of plastic and money-making lives right alongside.