Have you been to the “Port” yet?
As a new student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I was unfamiliar with all the favorite spots on campus. My orientation small group leader walked me to the beloved 24-hour prayer place on the campus. This chapel, a replica of the famous Portiuncula, was located in a secluded wooded area of campus and was the site of our university’s 24-hour perpetual adoration. This tiny stone chapel would become a home away from home for me during my four years at Franciscan.
In 2002 I made a pilgrimage with my classmates to the original Portiuncula in Italy. It is one of the church buildings that St. Francis famously rebuilt and remains in its medieval condition—although the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi was later built around it. Once while praying at the Portiuncula, Francis was granted a vision of our Lord and Blessed Mother surrounded by a host of angels. Francis felt the Lord beckoning him during this experience to ask a special favor. Francis, who had a love for the salvation of souls, asked for the grace of a full pardon for all who would visit the chapel with a contrite heart.
Francis then saw Mary present this petition to her Son, who replied to Francis, “It is a great favor that you request, nevertheless it shall be granted to you. Go to my Vicar on earth, to whom I have given the power to bind and loose, and ask him in My name to grant this indulgence.”
St. Francis sought an audience with Pope Honorius III who had the authority to grant this request. After being assured of the truth of the vision, Honorius granted the indulgence which could be gained by the faithful on August 2 each year, the day of the church’s dedication.
Today pilgrims from around the world continue to flock to this humble yet beautiful chapel housed within a Basilica. Over time, various artists have adorned this simple and austere chapel with magnificent paintings, but the crowning masterpiece is a six-part fresco painted by IIario da Viterbo. The scenes depicted include:
- The Annunciation
- St Francis Throws Himself into the Thorny Brambles
- St Francis Accompanied by Two Angels
- Apparition of Christ and the Virgin, Accompanied by 60 Angels, with St Francis Offering Roses
- St Francis imploring pope Honorius III the Confirmation of the Indulgence
- St Francis Promulgates the Indulgence, Accompanied by the Bishops of Umbria
Although the Portiuncula can never claim to be the greatest Gothic Cathedral, it will always hold a special place in my heart.
Though I only spent a few minutes in the original Portiuncula, I lingered often in its replica in Steubenville and would abide there in the presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. Within the walls of this chapel, I begged the Lord to heal broken hearts. I implored him to help me grow in the spiritual life and cultivate the gifts He had bestowed upon me. Here I offered prayers of thanksgiving for answered petitions, blessings and new relationships. My husband and I were engaged in that chapel, starting a new journey and vocation together. I interceded for innumerous intentions, and received unfathomable amounts of grace.
This place, “The Port,” was often my place of refuge, a spot where I would seek the solitude and rest I was often looking for during my college years.
I am grateful for those four stone walls that hold more memories than I will ever be able to articulate. My prayer for each of us is that we find a sacred place where we can retreat to connect with Our Lord in order to be formed into the disciples we are meant to become on this Earth. In these sacred spaces, we find the connection with the source of our rest and restoration.