Down a deserted stone alleyway, a joyful chorus of “Hallelujah” can be heard rising from an open window while dozens of tourists armed with selfie sticks gather nearby and begin to scour one of Italy’s most beloved towns in search of the perfect digital souvenir.

Assisi, a charming medieval hillside city site 100 miles northwest of Rome, is the birthplace of St. Francis, the friar who revolutionized the Catholic Church by preaching a message of poverty and humility more than 800 years ago.

The saint himself has long been an object of near universal appeal: Statues of St. Francis adorn gardens in the U.S. and around the world, and the famous Francis “peace prayer” — though not written by him — is immediately recognizable.