The Monte Cassino Monastery was founded by St. Benedict about 529 of the Christian era. Montecassino became famous for the prodigious life and the Sepulchre of its founder.
A Small History:
Around 577, the Abbey was destroyed by the Longbards of Zotone, and early in the 8th century Pope Gregory II commissioned to rebuild it.
In 787, Charlemagne came to visit the Abbey and granted it great privileges.
In 883, the Saracens invaded and sacked the Monastery and burnt it down, causing the death of Bertarius its saint abbot.
They again restored the Abbey to its former political and ecclesiastic height in the 10th century, culminating under Abbot Desiderius.
Called “Benefactor’s Cloister” because of the 24 statues of popes and Kings, installed in 1666 whose munificence was lavished upon the Abbey over the centuries
The third destruction, caused by an earthquake in 1349, left nothing but a few walls.
Many additions and embellishments were made during the construction until February 15th, 1944, during the final stages of World War II when Monte Cassino happened to be on the firing line between German and American forces during the Italian Campaign.
During this time of war, the Abbey had become a shelter for hundreds of defenseless civilians and refugees, but it also housed Germans playing lookout from the top of the hill and calling in strategic hits that were a jeopardy to ally forces.
This cloister is named Bramante, because of its peaceful spaciousness.
The decision was made, and there was no turning back, allied forces were going to have to destroy the abbey and the order was given by American forces. Once the attacks began, the Abbey was reduced to a heap of debris in 3 hours time. Most of the refugees hauled up there met their deaths, but so did the German forces who had been hiding out.
The abbey was rebuilt according to the ancient architectural pattern and to the “where and as was” program of Abbot Ildefonso Rea, its reconstructor.
Reconstruction and decoration works took more than a decade, and were exclusively financed by the Italian State.
After so many historical events, Monte Cassino may truly be symbolized by centuries old oak, which although broken in the storm, always becomes green and alive again, stronger than ever. “Succisa Virescit”.
St. Benedict, by the sculptor P. Campi of Carrara, dated 1736.
The inscription at the base reads, “Benedictus qui vent in nomini Domini” (Blessed be he who came in the Name of the lord).
St. Scolastica, a copy by the original, also C. Campi, which was destroyed.
The inscription at the base reads “Veni columba mea, veni, coronaberis” (Come, my dove, come, you will be crowned)
This door was beautiful, I couldn’t resist a photo
INSIDE THE BASILICA
The dome of the Basilica contains 4 vaulted cells designed by architect O. Torriani in 1613
The Basilica Cathedral was rebuilt according to the architectural and decoration pattern of the 17th and 18th century design attributed by C. Fansago, architect and sculptor.
The High altar. On October 24, 1964 the altar was deconsecrated by Pope Paul VI who visited Montecassino to dedicate the Basilica and to proclaim St. Benedict the primary Patron Saint of Europe
However, all frescoes and pictorial decorations of the vaults and the canvas paintings on the walls of the Basilica have gone lost.
Vault of the Nave
The vault of the nave^, which formerly displayed frescoes painted by L. Giordano, initiated in 1677 at the “solemn sound of bells” and completed in 1678, is still empty.
Many of the original sketches of the lost frescoes are displayed in the museum.
After various restorations it has been possible to bring the masterpiece carved in walnut wood, achieved from 1692-1708 with the contribution of various artisans, among which 2 members of the Roman Colicci family, back to its ancient splendor.
Walking down to visit the crypt. Built in 1544 when G. Scloccheto da Piacenza was Abbot of Montecassino. The crypts are a cave hewn into the mountain rocks.
A peacock mosaic down in the crypts, sounds funny right?
Next it was off to the museum to see some of the items they had managed to rescue from the debri on the 4th attack of the Abbey. For 5 euro per person you have free reign of the area.
A room full of old and intricate bibles.
A very old drawing of the town of Monte Cassino with the Abbey situated high up on the hill. You can see why the abbey was such a good vantage point for axis powers (the Germans) during WWII. They were able to watch movements and call in strikes to specific locations, which was very detrimental to ally powers and kept the fight ongoing.
Chasuble in red velvet.
Intricately designed head piece
Out in one of the vestibules
Pictures from times past of the Monte Cassino Abbey
Afterwards we went down the hill to the Polish War Memorial.
A picture of the Polish War Memorial from the Abbey of Monte Cassino
Just to the West of the Abbey.
Looking at the Abbey from one of the alcoves
“We, Polish soldiers have given our body to Italy, our heart to Poland and our soul to God for our own and other people’s freedom”
Over 1,000 Polish soldiers are buried here following the liberation of Montecassino Abbey on May 18th, 1944.
Offerings to remember all those who were lost.
The graves of the fallen
A bus of Polish people pulled up right behind us and came to remember, giving their own offering of flowers, and saying the Lords prayer in Polish. It was a somber moment.
Walking down the lane back to the car. One last shot of the Abbey. We are off to a wine tasting in Orvieto next, stay tuned!
This article appeared first on The Cassey Excursion.
**The facts included in this post came from the English version of a small handbook entitled “The Abbey of Montecassino”