Today in Catholic History – Earthquake in Assisi

On 26 September 1997, two severe earthquakes struck Assisi killing ten people, including two Franciscan friars. The quakes severely damaged the Basilica of St. Francis, the mother church of the Franciscan community.

The first first quake struck in the early morning and measured 5.5 on the Richter Scale. It caused major cracks in the ceiling of the basilica and some damage to the basilica’s frescoes. The extent of the damage caused the custodian of the convent to close the basilica to visitors and alert local government officials.

Ten hours later, while two Franciscan friars and two art experts were examining the damage the first quake caused to the 13th basilica, a second quake struck – measuring 5.7 on the Richter Scale. Part of the ceiling and the frescoes painted by Cimabue crashed to the floor, killing the four men.

Since the earthquake, $40 million has been spent rebuilding, reinforcing and restoring the basilica. Seventy art restorers using computer programs have sorted through 320,000 fragments of frescoes to restore as much as possible. However, between 10 and 20 percent of the damaged frescoes are beyond repair.

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