Rockers in the sacristy: Book recounts St. Francis' famous fans

Tue Feb 18, 2014 11:04am EST
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By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - What do Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger's daughter, Carlos Santana and Patti Smith have in common? It's not only rock and roll: all of them are fans of a saint who lived 800 years ago.

St. Francis of Assisi, known worldwide for his simple spirituality, his closeness to the poor, his love of nature and his preaching of peace, has some unlikely admirers.

Father Enzo Fortunato, the spokesman and public face of the convent complex in Assisi where the Francis is buried, has written a new book on the people who have been influenced by the teachings of the gentle saint who gave up his worldly goods.

"Vado da Francesco" (I am going to Francis), takes the reader on a historical trip through accounts of the visitors to the basilica in the past few decades.

They include popes who sought solace in prayer and politicians who sought picture opportunities. But they also include artists and rockers, most of whom came and went quietly, sometimes even secretly.

On October 6, 2006, for example, the monks reopened the upper basilica, scene of the famous 13th century frescoes by Giotto depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis, for a nocturnal visit by Bruce Springsteen.

Springsteen, who was playing in nearby Perugia, badly wanted to visit the basilica but feared the media and the public would have spoiled the place's spiritual nature if he visited during the day, Fortunato explains in the 179-page book.

So, in one of the few times in its history, the basilica was reopened and its lights turned on at about 10:30 p.m. for Springsteen and his group, the Seeger Sessions Band.   Continued...

Rock star Bruce Springsteen (C) is seen during a visit to the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi in this file photo dated October 6, 2006. REUTERS/Mauro Berti-Custodia Generale Sacro Convento di Assisi/Handout via Reuters