"Uncle technology" joins Assisi family of St Francis

ASSISI, Italy, Nov 19 (Reuters) - St Francis of Assisi, who

called the sun "brother" and the moon "sister," might have

referred to it as "uncle technology".

Visitors to the monumental basilica-convent complex where St

Francis is buried in the Umbrian hill town of Assisi will now be

able to enjoy a touch-screen and 3-D experience to help them

better appreciate the art, history and spirituality inside.

A new visitor's centre just across the street allows art

aficionados to view and enlarge any detail of the frescoes on

touch screens, which simultaneously project the image on a wall

screen.

"This should enhance the spiritual and artistic experience

for the visitor," said Father Enzo Fortunato, the spokesman for

the convent and one of the creators of the project.

Indeed, because of the crowds, particularly in summer, a

visitor to the basilica really can't get much quality time with

Giotto's 13th century frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis

and the saint's message of peace and love of nature.

"The message is still the gospel and Francis himself. This

is just the medium," Fortunato said at the weekend inauguration

of the centre.

The darkened rooms offer an educational appetizer ahead of

an artistic and spiritual experience that many people -

Christian or not - find awe-inspiring.

You no longer have to bring your binoculars if you want to

get a close up, life-size view of St Francis' face or any other

detail on one of Giotto's famed frescoes on the walls of the

upper basilica.

For example, last year art restorers discovered the figure

of a devil hidden in the details of the clouds in one of the

Giotto frescoes.

It shows a profile of a figure with a hooked nose, a sly

smile, and dark horns hidden among the clouds in the panel of

the scene depicting the death of St Francis.

The figure is difficult to see from the floor of the basilica

but emerges clearly in close-up photography and is now visible

on the touch screens.

The multi-media rooms also screen short films that offer a

rare peek into the daily lives of the friars who live in the

convent, including the refectory where they eat and the chapels

where they pray.

Visitors can also view hundreds of digitised versions of

historic documents that are too fragile to exhibit.

They include papal bulls concerning the Franciscan order,

the deed dated March 30, 1228 in which Simone di Pucciarello, a

wealthy citizen of Assisi donated the land where the basilica

now stands.

One digital gem is the one of the oldest known versions of

"Canticle of the Sun," also known as the "Praise of the

Creatures", which St Francis is said to have composed during an

illness in 1224, about two years before his death.

The canticle has influenced artists throughout the ages,

from Franz Liszt in the 19th century to punk rocker Patti Smith

in the 21st century.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella, editing by Paul Casciato)

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