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The Oratory of the Pilgrims

The Oratory of the Pilgrims

The Oratory of the Pilgrims was built in 1457 next a hospital. It was another place where pilgrims could stop and pray between the two large Franciscan basilicas of Assisi, St. Francis and St. Clare, which showed the gradual increase in pilgrimages to Assisi in the 15th century.

Pilgrims passing by would instantly recognise what the building was used for from the symbols on the facade and on the door. The right mixtilinear element features the Franciscan Tau cross, the stick with the bag on the left and the Cross of the Knights Hospitaller in the centre of the arch carved in stone.

The large fresco on the facade painted by Matteo da Gualdo in 1468 shows a pilgrim receiving the blessing from the Redeemer seated at the centre of the painting, with jubilant angels on either side.

The face of Christ with His stern and reassuring eyes is still visible, also because of the words on the book He is holding: EGO SUM VERITAS… On the left, St. James holding the pilgrim’s staff, and on the right St. Anthony Abbot. At the top, under the large wooden screen, putti playing the cymbals, the viola, the organ and the tambourine.

Il gran miracolo del pellegrino

This is an episode that is widely featured in the hagiography of pilgrims, also popular in European sacred theatrical pieces and in folk ballads.

The daughter of an innkeeper tried to seduce, to no avail, a young pilgrim who was on his way to Compostela with his parents. To take revenge for being turned down, she hid a silver goblet in the young man’s haversack and made sure it was found.

The young man was accused of theft and sentenced to be hanged. On return from the pilgrimage, the father and mother found their son’s body still hanging from the gallows and mourned his death. But the young man comforted them, saying that he was still alive and that St. James was holding him up.

The parents ran to the judge to bring him the news, but the judge was feasting and did not believe them, and said that the offender was as dead as the spring chickens laid on the sumptuous table. The spring chickens immediately came back to life and crowed loudly, and so the young man was brought back to his parents.

Must-See

The chapel preserves the most important pictorial complex of the fifteenth century in Assisi.
In the back wall there is a Maestà in the center with St. James and St. Anthony the Abbot on either side, with the bell and the stick in the shape of a Tau Cross, by Matteo da Gualdo dated 1468.

On the right wall are two of the best known miracles of St. James:
the Miracle of the risen cockerels to proclaim the innocence of the young man and the Miracle of the hanged man miraculously supported by the saint and found still alive by his parents.

On the opposite wall two stories of Saint Anthony the Abbot, taken from the Life of the Holy Fathers by Domenico Cavalca, and disclosed by the Legend of Patràs of the fifteenth century: Saint Anthony welcomes the camels who carry the supplies to the monks without guide and the Saint distributes alms to poor and infirm. Both works by Pierantonio Mezzastris.

On the counter-façade wall the saints Giacomo, Antonio Abate and Ansano are painted, who look up to the blessing Christ within the almond. Work attributed to the painter from Assisi Andrea Aloigi. The repeated presence of the two Saints is a further sign of protection to the pilgrim’s journey.

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