When Francis arrived at the church of St. Mary of the Angels just below the walled city of Assisi, the small Benedictine church was falling apart. Being in the habit of rebuilding churches, Francis "stayed there out of his reverence for the angels and his special love for the mother of Christ" (Bonaventure, Major Legend, 2.8). In his beautiful and poetic way, the Seraphic Doctor wrote:
the holy man loved more than other places in the world;
for here he began humbly,
here he progressed virtuously,
here he ended happily.
he entrusted to his brothers at his death
as the most beloved of the Virgin (Major Life, 2.8).
In their generosity, the sons of Saint Benedict allowed Saint Francis and his sons the use of the Portiuncula, the Little Portion. To this day it is an extraordinary place, and for more reasons than seeing a tiny little church within a large basilica.
Francis often said of the Portiuncula:
See to it, my sons, that you never abandon this place. If you are driven out from one side, go back in at the other. For this place is truly holy and is the dwelling of the Most High God. Here, when we were but a few, the Most High gave us increase; here he enlightened the hearts of his poor ones by the light of his wisdom; here he set our wills afire with the fire of his love. Here he who prays with a devout heart will obtain what he prays for and he who offendswill be punished more severely. Wherefore, my sons, consider this dwelling place of God to be worthy of all honor, and with all your heart, with the voice of joy and praise, give glory to God in this place (Celano, First Life, 106).We who seek to follow holy father Francis owe a debt of gratitude to Saint Benedict and his sons.