* Rockers, politicians, popes and penitents, all flock to
* Saint who died in 1226 associated with peace, environment,
* Monks stopped Tareq Aziz bodyguards from entering convent
with machine guns
By Philip Pullella
ROME, Feb 17 What do Bruce Springsteen, Mick
Jagger's daughter, Carlos Santana and Patti Smith have in
common? It's not only rock and roll: all of them are fans of a
saint who lived 800 years ago.
St. Francis of Assisi, known worldwide for his simple
spirituality, his closeness to the poor, his love of nature and
his preaching of peace, has some unlikely admirers.
Father Enzo Fortunato, the spokesman and public face of the
convent complex in Assisi where the Francis is buried, has
written a new book on the people who have been influenced by
the teachings of the gentle saint who gave up his worldly goods.
"Vado da Francesco" (I am going to Francis), takes the
reader on a historical trip through accounts of the visitors to
the basilica in the past few decades.
They include popes who sought solace in prayer and
politicians who sought picture opportunities. But they also
include artists and rockers, most of whom came and went quietly,
sometimes even secretly.
On October 6, 2006, for example, the monks reopened the
upper basilica, scene of the famous 13th century frescoes by
Giotto depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis, for a
nocturnal visit by Bruce Springsteen.
Springsteen, who was playing in nearby Perugia, badly wanted
to visit the basilica but feared the media and the public would
have spoiled the place's spiritual nature if he visited during
the day, Fortunato explains in the 179-page book.
So, in one of the few times in its history, the basilica was
reopened and its lights turned on at about 10:30 p.m. for
Springsteen and his group, the Seeger Sessions Band.
Springsteen wrote in the guest book: "This basilica has the
colours of the Resurrection," which Fortunato calls "an almost
theological, masterful synthesis" of what the basilica is about.
"THE BOSS" AND THE SAINT
As Springsteen was leaving Fortunato mentioned that the
saint's tomb was on the other side of a wall but they could not
go in because it was nearly midnight. Springsteen stopped in his
tracks, turned in the direction of the tomb and bowed his head
The book also reproduces a letter by Jade Jagger, Mick
Jagger's daughter, telling the monks that she named her own
daughter Assisi because "for me he (Francis) was always the
first environmentalist and hippy and was a true inspiration to
me from my early years.".
Another rocker who thinks Francis rocks is Carlos Santana.
On July 20, 2011, he was playing at the Umbria Jazz Festival in
Perugia. Between songs he told his audience that he felt a
"feeling of love (in Umbria) because in this place long time ago
was a gentleman named Francis of Assisi".
But perhaps the most surreal visit to Assisi by a rocker
came on July 25, 2012, when Patti Smith, the "godmother of
punk," meditated before St. Francis's tomb and even helped
restore a fresco by Giotto.
"When I think of St Francis I don't think of religion, I
don't think of any rules and regulations," she said that day
after a visit of several hours to the convent complex which
included a frugal lunch with the monks.
St. Francis inspired "Constantine's Dream", one track of
Smith's 2012 album Banga.
"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 ... If
you approach St Francis with love, you receive love in return,"
Smith, 67, said.
Of course, rockers are not the only famous people who have
gone to Assisi and Fortunato paints vignettes of about 50
When Iraqi Foreign Minister Tareq Aziz, a Christian, visited
on the eve of the Iraq war in 2003, his bodyguards wanted to
bring their machine guns into the refectory where Aziz ate with
The monks said 'no,' and the guns stayed outside.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella)