It’s no secret that a renewal retreat can offer a wide variety of benefits, especially for someone in a stressful profession, challenging circumstances, or a major transition in life. Simply taking time away from everyday activities and obligations is itself an effective stress-reducer. When combined with a structured program of contemplative or creative practices, well-prepared meals and non-programmed periods for relaxing and exploring nature or another culture, a retreat can reverse a troubled trajectory, providing fresh insight and inspiration for one’s next steps in life.
Healing and spiritual retreats are offered in many settings around the globe, often held in the beauty and peaceful embrace of nature. If you feel curious in finding a retreat which serves your particular needs, reading a guide to ‘the best retreats’ or hunting on the internet is often a way to begin.
With so many possibilities to choose from this article focuses on retreats held in one particular location, recognized for its spiritual atmosphere and historic authenticity. The hill-town of Assisi, Italy was originally made famous by the 13th century saints, Francis and Clare, and ever since has been a destination for pilgrims and tourists keen on experiencing a connection to the sacred. Named a U.N. ‘International City of Peace’ in 1987, Assisi is a site for convocations for inter-religious dialogue and societal solutions in the modern world, as well as innumerable youth gatherings of song and spirit.
Most retreats in Assisi include visits to the main shrines, such as the Basilica of Francis, containing his tomb along with evocative paintings of the 12th century Florentine painter Giotto, depicting scenes from the gospels and the life story of the saint.
Another oft-visited site is the Basilica of Clare, where early morning prayers from cloistered nuns resound through the chapel, where the original painted cross which spoke to Francis has been guarded since 1257.
Upon hearing the divine directive to ‘rebuild the church anew’, Francis took the command literally. Ultimately joined by companions who later became his first friars, Francis laboriously, stone by stone, resurrected the ruined church of San Damiano. Just outside the city walls, in the midst of olive groves and grassy fields, this church still stands, transformed now into a thriving monastery holding daily services in prayer and song.
For those drawn to the tranquility of nature above the noise of daily urban life, a visit to the Carceri monastery is highly recommended, high on the slopes of Mount Subasio. Here one can see the stone bed where St. Francis slept, or sit quietly in a cave where, eight centuries earlier, Francis and his brother friars contemplated the eternal in silence.
When attending a retreat program in Assisi, such excursions are often woven into a daily program including silence, meditation, yoga, and various practices for regeneration. Each retreat program features a particular approach, guided by the retreat facilitator.
A few retreat offerings in Assisi
Simple Peace Retreats, claimed as one of the best retreats in the world by several magazines. Founded by Bruce and Ruth Davis, these retreats emphasize personal depth and universal spirituality, now set in a small hotel near Piazza Minerva.
The Ananda Community, founded twenty years ago by Swami Kriyananda and situated in a forested valley several kilometers east of Assisi, offers a variety of yoga and wellness retreat programs throughout the year.
Song Sanctuary Retreats, offered by musical artist/educator Michael Stillwater and his wife, psychotherapist Doris Laesser Stillwater, weave contemplation and music, including creative exploration and singing, along with time for reflection and relaxation. These retreats, held in the summer, invite the songmaker within each participant to discover the healing, joy and freedom of non-judgmental expression. Located in a welcoming monastery across from the Basilica di Francesco.