advertisement

The second Franciscan church ever built, after the one in Assisi—and dramatically altered over the centuries but still showing signs of its original beams and some fresco fragments—was begun around 1247 on orders of Brother Elias, the closest companion of St. Francis. Elias, whom Francis chose to administer the Franciscan Order upon his death in 1226, is buried here, and the contemplative space houses three precious relics of St. Francis—his tunic, his manuscript of the New Testament, and a cushion he often used. On the high altar is the Reliquary of the Holy Cross, an ornate 10th-century ivory tablet containing a fragment of Christ's cross, presented to Elias by the Byzantine Emperor in 1244. The artist Luca Signorelli, who died in Cortona in 1523, is believed to be buried in the crypt.