In the Footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare: A Pilgrimage to Assisi

AssisiPilgrimage_MBenefiel_June15_8Come with us to the awe-inspiring town of Assisi where pilgrims have sought wisdom for centuries.  Experience the culturally-rich birthplace of the thirteenth-century saints Francis and Clare, and walk in their footsteps through the beautiful landscapes of Umbria and Tuscany.

As you journey to the sacred sites where the saints sought clarity and spiritual sustenance, you may find your connection to the divine grow stronger and see your own life with renewed vision.  Open yourself to the possibilities of transformation as you draw on the natural beauty of this land and the spiritual imprint left by the saints.


AssisiPilgrimage_MBenefiel_June15_5Following the example of St. Francis at San Damiano, we will also explore the use of art in our own contemplative practice. The pilgrimage pace will be relaxed, allowing for spacious moments of solitude and contemplative silence, as pilgrims draw from a deep well of spiritual nourishment.

Each day we will ground ourselves in prayer and reflection. We encourage pilgrims to bring a musical instrument, art supplies, a journal, or anything else that nurtures the soul. Contemplative practices will help us reach inward, so that we might be more deeply touched by the beauty and inspiration of this sacred land and its culture. Pilgrims will stay in a convent of Franciscan sisters in the historic center of Assisi.

Day One: Wednesday, May 10

Assisi1Our journey will begin with a walk through Assisi, located in Umbria, the green heart of Italy. Treasured as the birthplace of both St. Francis and St. Clare, Assisi instills a sense of peace and meaning in the many pilgrims who travel through its wonderfully preserved history. Flowering balconies and frescoes can be seen at nearly every turn. As we orient ourselves to the historic town, we will become immersed in the beauty of Assisi’s cobblestone lanes, immense gates, and medieval architecture. Our evening will end with a group dinner at the retreat center.

Day Two: Thursday, May 11

On our second day, we will continue our exploration of the town as we visit sites important to the early lives of St. Clare and St. Francis. At the Cathedral of San Rufino, we will see the site of St. Clare’s childhood home and the font where St. Francis, St. Clare, and Emperor Frederick II were each baptized. We then will stroll down to the site of San Giorgio where St. Francis attended school and where he preached early sermons. We continue on to Chiesa Nuova, the site of St Francis’s birth and the adjacent family home and business. We end our walking tour at Santa Maria Maggiore where St. Francis renounced his family inheritance, stripping off his clothes and dedicating his life to God.

Day Three: Friday, May 12

On our third day we will walk past the medieval city walls and down to San Daimiano, the church where St Francis heard God’s call and where St. Clare established her religious community. After personal reflective time, we will gather for an evening prayer service at the crypt of St. Francis in the majestic Basilica of St. Francis.

Day Four: Saturday, May 13

On the fourth day, we will focus on the life of St. Francis as depicted in Giotto’s frescoes in the Basilica of St. Francis. We will have an opportunity to visit the Basilica museum and also see frescoes by Giotto’s teacher, Cimabue.

Day Five: Sunday, May 14

On the fifth day, we will visit Rivotorto, a stream at the foot of Mount Subasio where St. Francis and his followers lived in an abandoned hovel. We will then travel to the Porziuncula and the church of St. Mary of the Angels, headquarters of St. Francis and his brothers, and the place to which St. Clare ran away from her family to embrace her call to serve God. Here we will encounter frescoes by Perugino, Overbeck and have our first glimpse of a Della Robbia terra cotta relief. In the evening, we will visit the neighboring village of Bevagna, where local chef Simone Proietti Pesci will treat us to a multi-course dinner with Umbrian wine pairings.

Day Six: Monday, May 15

Day six is a free day for exploring and following Spirit-led adventures on your own.

Day Seven: Tuesday, May 16

On our seventh day, we will focus on the life of St. Clare with a visit to the Basilica of St. Clare. Home to many relics, paintings, frescoes, and the original San Damiano crucifix, the 13th-century church also contains the tomb of Saint Clare. In the evening, we will gather for an evening prayer service with the Poor Clares, the contemplative order of nuns founded by St. Clare.

Day Eight: Wednesday, May 17

Our eighth day will bring us to the forest gorge and isolated caves of Mount Subasio. Here St. Francis and his followers found a quiet home in the hermitage of Carceri. Surrounded by a thicket, the hermitage provides a secluded place for prayer and meditation, and Saint Francis returned here often throughout his life. Here we will see the earliest known painted image of Fra Francesco. Following in the saint’s footsteps, we will take time to enjoy silence and solitude, returning to the convent at our own pace.

Day Nine: Thursday, May 18

On the ninth day, we will travel together to La Verna, enclosed in a forest on Mounte Penna in Tuscany where we will view the Chapel of the Stigmata, built upon the sacred ground where St. Francis received the stigmata during forty days of fasting. We will also visit Santa Maria degli Angeli and Basilica Maggiore to view their art and relics. The Basilica and Chapels present us with a staggering array of glazed terra cotta altarpieces by Andrea and Francesco Della Robbia.

Day Ten: Friday, May 19

The tenth day will begin with a discussion about the Assisi Underground during World War II. We will then walk to the Assisi town museum, to the Basilica of St. Francis, and to Hotel Subasio with its historic architecture and views of the valley. Finally, we will visit the church and abbey of San Pietro.

Day Eleven: Saturday, May 20

We will end our pilgrimage together with a final morning of contemplative practice, closing reflections, and midday meal, as we prepare to integrate the wisdom we have gained into our everyday lives.

Margaret Benefiel,MBenefiel_headshot_assisi Ph. D., Executive Director of the Shalem Institute, has led or co-led seven previous pilgrimages to Italy. As a Quaker and a spiritual director, she finds great inspiration from Saints Francis and Clare. Dr. Benefiel is also a teacher and retreat leader and has served in various leadership roles in Spiritual Directors International and as Chair of the Academy of Management’s Management, Spirituality, and Religion Group. She is the co-chair of the Christian Spirituality Group of the American Academy of Religion. Dr. Benefiel is the author of Soul at Work (Seabury, 2005) and The Soul of a Leader (Crossroad, 2008), and co-editor of The Soul of Supervision (Morehouse, 2010). She has also written for The Leadership Quarterly, Management Communication Quarterly, Managerial Finance, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Organization, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Personal Excellence, America, Presence, The Way, Studies in Spirituality, Radical Grace, and Faith at Work.

Rachel Guaraldi works as an interfaith hospital chaplain in the Boston area and coordinates and trains Spiritual Caregiving Volunteers at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services. She also is a member of Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program, Class of 2017. Experiences of pilgrimage and journey are important narratives in her life, and alongside her faith, these experiences contribute to her foundational belief in the resilience and healing possibility in all of us. She has a Master’s of Arts in Teaching from Towson University and a Master’s of Arts in Religion from the Earlham School of Religion and is a member of Beacon Hill Friends Meeting in Boston.

Chuck McCorkle, MSW has an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts and has long felt a strong spiritual connection with art and contemplative practice. In the mid 1980s, he relinquished his privileged role in the studio to follow a vocational calling to do AIDS work. In retirement, the call to service brought him to Sierra Leone to provide mental health support to an Ebola Response Team. To find balance and to feed the spirit, he has volunteered at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Phillips Collection, and the National Gallery of Art. During his first pilgrimage to Assisi he was struck by the rich diversity of sacred space and visual art associated with Francis and Clare, all of which deepened his experience of prayerful renewal. He has collaborated with Margaret Benefiel in past workshops on prayer and forming spiritual support groups.


$3,200, includes all breakfasts and lunches and three dinners.

Cost does not include airfare to and from Rome. Transfer between Rome FCO airport and Assisi is included. Single room supplement is $300 and subject to availability.

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Fill out Registration/Commitment form here.

(non-refundable deposit) due with registration

Cancellations: If you must cancel your reservation, refunds will be made as follows: cancellations received on or before February 28, 2017: 100% of monies received minus $500 non-refundable deposit; cancellations received between March 1 and March 31, 2017: 50% of monies received minus $500 non-refundable deposit; no refunds will be made for cancellations received after March 31, 2017. Shalem reserves the right to cancel the pilgrimage for any reason, in which case you will receive a full refund of all monies paid.

April 4, 2018
April 14, 2018