ROME Singer-songwriter Patti Smith, whose latest album "Banga" was in part inspired by the life of St Francis, meditated before his tomb in the Umbrian hill town of Assisi on Wednesday and even helped restore a fresco by Giotto.
Smith, sometimes called the "Godmother of Punk," spent several hours at the large basilica and convent complex, which is also the burial place of the saint who for centuries has been an inspiration for pacifists and environmentalists.
"When I think of St Francis I don't think of religion, I don't think of any rules and regulations," she told an interviewer for the basilica's website www.sanfrancescopatronoditalia.it/.
"I think of nature. I think of his love of nature. I think of his absolute love of life and I think any human being can relate to that," she said in the interview, an advance tape of which was provided to Reuters.
"I think that St Francis does not exclude anyone. Just like Jesus Christ. If you approach St Francis with love, you receive love in return."
Smith, 65, who is most famous for her 1978 song "Because the Night," meditated before the stone tomb of the saint and then joined the brown-robed monks for a frugal lunch in the refectory.
St Francis, who died in 1226, inspired "Constantine's Dream", one track of her latest album Banga.
The rocker and writer, who was an early denizen of the legendary punk club CBGB in New York and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, said she has been influenced by different saints over the years.
"As a young child I was very drawn to saints, whether it be Joan of Arc or St John or St Matthew. I (like) the feeling of different saints that watch over you," she said. "Saints take us through different stages of our life. St Bernadette helped me at a time when I was young."
Smith, an environmental activist, said the saint of Assisi, who legend says spoke to animals and called the sun "brother" and the moon "sister," was now her guide.
"In this period of my life his idea of simplicity and of being close to nature is what I wish to aspire to. It's simply his example. It's that simple. He is a holistic example of how to conduct oneself in the world," she said.
Asked what song she would sing to St Francis if she met him, she said it would be "Blackbird" by Paul McCartney, adding that she was particularly moved by the lyric "Take these broken wings and learn to fly".
While touring the convent complex, she spoke to restorers cleaning a Giotto fresco in the lower basilica and, donning a yellow hard hat, she was allowed to add a touch of watercolor to the painting by the master who lived in the 13th and 14th centuries.
"Excuse me, Giotto," she said. "I did it with love."
(Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Paul Casciato)