Assisi Flags, Banners Display Franciscan Roots

HNP Communications Features

NEW YORK — The flags and banners of Assisi — 10 colorful reminders of St. Francis’ roots that have adorned St. Francis of Assisi Church here — will come down on Oct. 16, a month after they were raised to honor the saint. 

The gonfalons, or banners, depicted the annual Calendimaggio festival in Assisi, Italy, which marks the arrival of spring. St. Francis Parish flew the flags and banners outside its midtown Manhattan church, next to the Province headquarters, to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Order and the saint’s feast day. 

The church, which ran the display from mid-September to mid-October, is thought to be the only place in the United States to display the flags. The project was the idea ofTimothy Shreenan, OFM, the church’s director of liturgy and communications. He created displays for the two entrances of the church — on 31st and 32nd streets.

flags-bIn a brochure produced by the church explaining the significance of the flags, the parish said that Paolo Biffis, Fioravante Caldari and Francesco Saverio Sergicomi launched the festival in the 1950s, reviving a medieval tradition. The city was divided into sections, and each was assigned a coat of arms and flag that had roots in medieval times. 

Timothy said he garnered text for the brochure from information by Peter Orenski, a flag maker in New Milford, Conn., who’s TME Company produced the display. “Great flags, like great nations and great saints,” wrote Orenski, “are born of conflict. The flags and gonfalons of the Assisian Calendimaggio are no exception.” 

The flags, which are done in vivid navy blue, gold red, green, light blue and black, reflect this tension, or what Orenski calls “the duality inherent in commingling the sacred and profane; the pagan rite with the spiritual experience.” They also show the history of the feuds inherent in Francis’ world. 

Among the many emblems and stories illustrated on the flags, are a cross and lion, coats of arms, towers surrounded by water, shields, arrows, the Greek letter tau (T), St. Peter’s fishing boat, feuding cats, gates protecting a city, and the constellation Ursa Major. 

One of the more interesting storytelling flags, called the “ll Sestiere San Rufino,” honors the first bishop of Assisi, Rugino. His third century martydom, of being tied with a knotted hemp rope to a millstone and drown in the river, is depicted on the flag. 

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to this newsletter.