The friary and sanctuary of San Damiano, which the Friars Minor have inhabited from the end of the thirteenth century, is one of the Franciscan Sanctuaries of Assisi, looked after by the Friars Minor of the Seraphic Province of St. Francis of Assisi – together with the Portiuncola, the Hermitage of the Carceri and Chiesa Nuova (Church built over family home of St. Francis).
The Friary contains at present the Novitiate, the house of formation for young men who wish to follow Jesus as Francis did, and undergo a “year of trial”. Donning the Franciscan habit they deepen their knowledge of the charism, through a life of prayer, penance and fraternity prior to a preliminary profession of religious vows.
The fraternity, presently composed of 16 friars, is principally concerned with the formation of novices and looking after the sanctuary and the needs of the thousands of pilgrims who come each year to visit this holy place, as well as in various services for the Seraphic Province and the local Church.
San Damiano had a troubled history in the not so distant past. The friary was confiscated firstly by the Italian Government pursuant to legal statutes emanating in the 1860s and was then sold by the Comune of Assisi to Lord G.F.S. Robinson, Marquis of Ripon. It subsequently passed into the hands of the Kerr family and the final owner of the family, Lord Peter Kerr, Marquis of Lothian, with a notary’s act of 22nd September 1983 returned it to the Order of the Friars Minor.
Lord Lothian, wishing that San Damiano should remain a place of prayer, silcnce and peace, inserted into the deed of gift various conditions and duties. Amongst these a limited time for visits. The text reads “Tourist visits are prohibited prior to 10 am and after 6 pm” In the winter the latter is 5 pm.