Boom of Virtual Pilgrims to St. Francis’ Tomb in Assisi

Sun, 10/27/2013 - 06:00

For centuries, Assisi has been a main destination of Christian pilgrimage. The tomb of St. Francis in particular has attracted millions of people, driven by the charm of his message and need for spiritual help.

Since last May however, a new phenomenon is affecting the crypt inside the Basilica of San Francesco, which houses the remains of the "Poverello" from Assisi: a 24-hour webcam has been installed over the tomb, following the election of Pope Francis, the first pope in history to take the name of Francis.

Since the webcam was installed, it has registered more than 18 millions clicks from 123 countries, for 16,000 hours of "online prayers".

Italy is first in the number of clicks, followed by the U.S., Canada, Germany and Spain.

The virtual pilgrimage is accompanied by messages, reflections, prayers that people can send to the email address provided on the website. “The friars of the Sacro Convento will entrust your prayer to Saint Francis,” it is written on the website.

 “The web allows us to shorten distances,” says Father Enzo Fortunato, director of the press office for the Basilica of San Francesco. “So many people who don’t have the possibility to come to Assisi have found themselves praying over the tomb of the saint thanks to our initiative. The webcam is an answer to the need for spirituality.”

However, professor of sociology Roberto Cipriani says that the numbers of people logging in to see Francis’ tomb don’t necessarily reflect the need for spirituality. “Other factors are involved, such as the charm of the Basilica, the strength of the images and the attraction many feel toward the poor friar from Assisi. A sort of symbol of what the catholic Church would like to be, but it’s not.”

To see St. Francis’ tomb, click here: