It’s difficult to say much which has not been said before about the stunning Monastery of Monte Cassino, completely destroyed during the second world war and not completely rebuilt to its original design. The history of this Monastery goes back to 529 when it was founded by St Benedict, acknowledged as being the home of Western Civilization.
Visit the Cathedral, the museum and of course the War Cemeteries (a guide can be organized, if you wish). Afterwards spend a little time shopping or relaxing in the town.
Montecassino, a small town about 80 miles south of Rome, is the home of the sacred relics and monastery of St. Benedict (480-543), the patron saint of Europe and the founder of western monasticism.
Since its founding by St. Benedict in 529 AD, Montecassino Monastery has had a troubled history, suffering from repeated attacks, pillage, and natural disasters. Most recently, it was the site of a terrible battle during World War II that resulted in great loss of life and complete destruction of the monastic buildings.
Despite its significant and frequent setbacks, the monastery has always been rebuilt. The building that stands today was constructed after 1944 using the old plans.
A museum displays examples of medieval monastic art and other artifacts, the basilica is richly decorated in stucco and mosaics, and pilgrims still come to pray before the relics of Benedict and his sister, St. Scholastica, which surivived the bombings.
St. Benedict was born to a noble family in Nursia, a small town near Spoleto, around 480 AD. He did not set out to be a great monastic leader, wishing instead to live a quiet and contemplative life as a hermit. As a young man, Benedict established himself in a small cave 50 miles from Rome in Subiaco. His plans for solitude were not to be, however. Disciples were soon attracted to him, and he became well known for his pious character, wise teachings and ability to work miracles.
Benedict moved to Montecassino in 528, where he remained the rest of his life. Here he wrote his Rule, a set of guidelines for laymen wishing to live a spiritual life pleasing to God. The Rule of St. Benedict would become the pattern for monastic rules across medieval Europe.
Upon his death in 543, he was buried in a tomb with his sister, St. Scholastica. The monastery was sacked by the Lombards not long after Benedict’s death, but it was soon rebuilt. By the 11th century, Montecassino had become the wealthiest monastery in the world.
In World War II, the hill of Monte Cassino was part of a German defensive line guarding the approaches to Rome. Monte Cassino became the target of assault after assault by Allied troops, and was finally destroyed by air bombardment. The hill was captured at dreadful loss of life by the Polish Army and Italian refugees. After the war, the abbey was rebuilt to the original plans.
The abbey sits atop a large hill, below which lies the city of Cassino. A vast Polish war cemetery covers a hillside across the valley, which can be easily seen from the abbey.
The abbey museum displays medieval art and artifacts from the monastery and explains the history of monasticism. The monastic church, the main destination for pilgrims, features an urn under the high altar containing the relics of Benedict and Scholastica.