On the Franciscan calendar, the dedication of the Basilica of Saint Francis is celebrated on May 24. This church was begun at the direction of Pope Gregory IX, a longtime friend of Francis; Gregory laid this basilica’s cornerstone the day after he canonized Francis on July 16, 1228. What was once known as “the Hill of Hell” (where criminals were executed) soon became known as “the Hill of Paradise.”
Francis had been originally buried in Assisi’s Saint George Church; he was reburied here on May 25, 1230. The basilica (a Gothic church atop a Romanesque church over a crypt) was solemnly consecrated in 1253. Giotto, Cimabue, Simone Martini, and other prominent artists decorated its walls and ceilings.
Saint John Paul II’s historic 1986 World Day of Prayer for Peace concluded in the piazza outside the lower basilica. So did his follow-up January 2002 gathering and Pope Benedict XVI’s 25th-anniversary event. Pope Francis celebrated Mass in that piazza seven months into his pontificate.