Montecassino Abbey and the Tomb of St Benedict and St Scholastica

Abbazia di Montecassino, Via Montecassino, Cassino, Frosinone, Italija

Website of the Sanctuary

+39 0776311529

Every day: 8.30 am -7.00 pm (winter 5.00 pm)

The Montecassino Abbey

The Montecassino Abbey is one of the most known Abbeys in the world. In 529 Saint Benedict chose this mountain to build a monastery that would host him and those monks following him on the way from Subiaco.

Paganism was still present here, but he managed to turn the place into a well-structured Christian monastery where everybody could have the dignity they deserved through praying and working. See our Top 15 catholic shrines around the world.

Montecassino Abbey and the Tomb of St Benedict and St Scholastica

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Within the centuries the Abbey has met magnificence and destruction many times, and has always come out of its ruins stronger. In 577 Langobards destroyed it, then Saracens in 887. In 1349 a violent earthquake occurred and in February 1944 a bombardment almost flatted it.

It is the faithful rebuilding of the twenty thousand square meters that people can see travelling on their way along the A1 Highway. Up on top of the 520 meters high mountain the monastery can easily be seen from far, making it a distinct landmark of the region.

>Ora et labora et lege: this is the motto of Saint Bendict’s Rule that the monks still follow in their daily routine.

Some of them study in the library surrounded by ancient books, or make researches in the archive on breathtaking manuscripts. Some others host people seeking for a moment of inner peace and serenity. And if you are visiting the Abbey you might meet some of them having a walk in the cloisters before they go back to their rooms to pray alone or to gather later for the common prayer.

Every day thousands of pilgrims and visitors silently go through the cloisters and then up the big ramp to the Basilica at Saint Benedict and Scholastica’s grave.

Montecassino Abbey and the Tomb of St Benedict and St Scholastica

Then the Crypt is there beneath to be revealed with the astonishing golden mosaics. But it is in the museum where finally visitors can see the magnificent paintings, the wonderful manuscripts and ancient books.

They can go through the history of the Abbey from the very beginning till today and grasp why Montecassino Abbey is known as the Lighthouse of Western Civilization.

The Rule of Saint Benedict

St. Benedict was the founder not only of the Montecassino Abbey, but also the father of the entire Benedictine Order.

Many miracles have been attributed to him, but St. Gregory the Great proposed a widely held belief: the most important and enduring miracle of St. Benedict was the creation of his Rule, what we call The Rule of St. Benedict. Written during the mid 6th century, the Rule of St. Benedict was the defining text which changed monasticism in the West.

The Tomb of Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica

Having been dutifully cared for, the earthly remains of St. Benedict and his twin sister St. Scholastica rest today at the celebrated hilltop monastery of Montecassino Abbey. Both Saints passed away in the mid 6th century, St. Scholastica at her nearby convent and St. Benedict at Montecassino.

A black marble scroll on their tomb says: St. Benedict and St. Scholastica were never separated in spirit during their life nor are their bodies separated in their death.

Montecassino Abbey and the Tomb of St Benedict and St Scholastica

The original urn was made of alabaster, and held a lead container big enough for two people’s remains. It was initially located underneath the primitive oratory of St. John the Baptist, built above the ancient acropolis’ pagan altar to Apollo.

The tomb of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, having survived so many centuries, destructions, and more recently the bombardment of WWII, can be found today at the High Altar of the reconstructed cathedral of Montecassino Abbey, surrounded by ornate and beautiful decorations.

Following WWII a methodical survey and excavation of the ancient sepulcher and bones inside the tomb was carried out. The experts conducted a thoroughly documented study at Montecassino and agreed on the authenticity of the remains, reaffirming like other have in the past, that they indeed belong to St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica.

The holy sepulcher of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica can be found inside the reconstructed cathedral of Montecassino. A 17th century painting on copper by the artist Giuseppe Cesari , portraying the two Saints resting marks the tomb behind the High Altar.

Above the copper painting is a black marble scroll with an inscription in Latin by the abbot Angelo della Noce saying: St. Benedict and St. Scholastica were never separated in spirit during their life nor are their bodies separated in their death.

Within the grave underneath the high altar, an engraved marble cover on top of the urn bears an inscription from 1955, after the reconstruction of Montecassino, and includes the name of the abbot Ildefonso Rea who oversaw the building project as well as the survey of the remains inside. Inside the intricately decorated bronze urn there are silver containers holding the bones of both Saints.

Above the copper painting of the Saints and the black marble scroll is a delicate portrait of Our Lady, an 18th century painting attributed to Giovanni Sarnelli. It situated among ornate candle holders and on top of the intricately carved marble altar.

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The Rule of Saint Benedict

St. Benedict was the founder not only of the Montecassino Abbey, but also the father of the entire Benedictine Order. Many miracles have been attributed to him, but St. Gregory the Great proposed a widely held belief: the most important and enduring miracle of St. Benedict was the creation of his Rule, what we call The Rule of St. Benedict. Written during the mid 6th century, the Rule of St. Benedict was the defining text which changed monasticism in the West.

The Rule consists of 73 chapters. In the 73rd and final chapter St. Benedict modestly says that his Rule is less an instructional manual to perfection but rather a guideline to piousness for beginners to the spiritual life. The Rule is however not only for novice or prospective monks, but also a manual for worship and code, monastic life as a whole as well as insight for monastic organization and duties, and disciplinary actions to be taken by abbots and superiors.

The Rule in its entirety encourages love, prayer, work, respect, chastity, moderation, and community.
The Rule was embraced and diffused by numerous other monasteries and remains fundamentally important to the Benedictine Order. The Rule was written in clear language and therefore easy to utilize and follow. It was intended to be adopted by other autonomous monasteries and not solely for St. Benedict’s beloved Montecassino. One important historical figure to duplicate St. Benedict’s Rule and promote it throughout Western Europe was Charlemagne during the 8th century. The inspiration and dedication awakened by The Rule is a great part of why St. Benedict’s message has lived on for more than a millennium.

The Tomb of Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica

Having been dutifully cared for, the earthly remains of St. Benedict and his twin sister St. Scholastica rest today at the celebrated hilltop monastery of Montecassino Abbey. Both Saints passed away in the mid 6th century, St. Scholastica at her nearby convent and St. Benedict at Montecassino. A black marble scroll on their tomb says: St. Benedict and St. Scholastica were never separated in spirit during their life nor are their bodies separated in their death.

The original urn was made of alabaster, and held a lead container big enough for two people’s remains. It was initially located underneath the primitive oratory of St. John the Baptist, built above the ancient acropolis’ pagan altar to Apollo. The tomb of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, having survived so many centuries, destructions, and more recently the bombardment of WWII, can be found today at the High Altar of the reconstructed cathedral of Montecassino Abbey, surrounded by ornate and beautiful decorations.

Following WWII a methodical survey and excavation of the ancient sepulcher and bones inside the tomb was carried out. The experts conducted a thoroughly documented study at Montecassino and agreed on the authenticity of the remains, reaffirming like other have in the past, that they indeed belong to St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica.

The holy sepulcher of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica can be found inside the reconstructed cathedral of Montecassino. A 17th century painting on copper by the artist Giuseppe Cesari , portraying the two Saints resting marks the tomb behind the High Altar.

Above the copper painting is a black marble scroll with an inscription in Latin by the abbot Angelo della Noce saying: St. Benedict and St. Scholastica were never separated in spirit during their life nor are their bodies separated in their death. Within the grave underneath the high altar, an engraved marble cover on top of the urn bears an inscription from 1955, after the reconstruction of Montecassino, and includes the name of the abbot Ildefonso Rea who oversaw the building project as well as the survey of the remains inside. Inside the intricately decorated bronze urn there are silver containers holding the bones of both Saints.

Above the copper painting of the Saints and the black marble scroll is a delicate portrait of Our Lady, an 18th century painting attributed to Giovanni Sarnelli. It situated among ornate candle holders and on top of the intricately carved marble altar.

 

The Early Years of the Montecassino Abbey

Before St. Benedict arrived to Cassino and established the greatly influential Montecassino on the hilltop above it, this area still had the very visible remains of its ancient past. Cassino is the modern name of the ancient city Casinum, a Volscian town about 87 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Rome. It has been known as “Cassino” since the late 19th century. Archaeological evidence tells us that Casinum had been inhabited by people at least as far back as the 7th century BC.

It came under Roman rule in the 4th century BC and flourished especially during the earlier Imperial period, roughly from the 1st century BC until the 3rd century AD. From this period we can still see the ruins of an impressive ancient amphitheater, smaller theater, and the Cappella del Crocifisso- a Roman mausoleum which was converted into a church in the 10th century. Across the river are some ruins of a villa belonging to Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BC), a Roman scholar noted for his attempts to make an accurate record of ancient Roman history. In the 5th century AD Cassino went into a period of serious decline due to a succession of barbarian invasions, and was left without a bishop until St. Benedict arrived a century after.

St. Benedict came to Cassino around 529 AD, finding some remnants of a once glorious town, whose inhabitants had returned to its pagan roots and still utilized the remains of the ancient temple and altar on the top of the hill for pagan worship and offerings. On the summit, above the ancient town Casinum, there was still the Temple of Jupiter as well as an altar and idols to Apollo and the ancient cyclopean walls and guardian towers.

As a first step towards transforming this ancient site into a sacred home, the idols were destroyed and the temple converted into a church dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, and a small oratory built dedicated to St. John the Baptist where the ancient altar to Apollo was. Elements of the Temple of Jupiter as well as the cyclopean wall and guardian tower were incorporated into the design and construction of the monastery, and surviving parts can still be seen today.

The Golden Age

The period between the 10th and 12th centuries was a period of great change for Montecassino Abbey. In the late 9th century the abbey was destroyed a second time at the hands of invading Saracens, the surviving monks fleeing to Teano. It was during their time at Teano that the original copy of St. Benedict’s Rule was lost to a fire. Montecassino Abbeywas rebuilt and the cenobites with the abbot Aligernus returned to the sacred hilltop abbey in 949 AD.

Montecassino already at this point was highly respected, but it was during the 11th century that we can say they reached a truly golden age under the abbot Desiderius. This period was a time of growth, extreme productivity, political change between the Eastern and Western church, and grand construction projects. Montecassino became a cultural center for Europe. It was during this time that the abbey gained acclaim for their scriptorium, large school of scribes, and miniature painters. This manuscript library of the abbey grew exponentially during this time. Montecassino’s church was rebuilt, bigger and more decorated than ever.

The 12th century was the start of a long period of stunted progress and fierce political struggle. It was characterized by decline, as the schism due to a double papal election in the church created a political divide which greatly affected Montecassino and other monasteries in Europe. Growth and prosperous life had come to a standstill, and the numbers of monks shrank, as hostilities grew between Montecassino and key political players such as Pope Honorius II and Frederick II. In the 13th century, Montecassino inadvertently lost its long-fought for autonomy. It would prove to be a truly difficult road full of conflicts and world wars to the immense and glorious Montecassino that we see today.

The Battle of Montecassino

The Battle of Montecassino was one of the most important military operations of WWII. Also known as the Battle for Rome, it wasn’t just one battle but rather a series of military assaults by the Allies against the Germans, starting on January 17th and ending in late May of 1944. Montecassino played center stage in this battle because Allied intelligence suspected German artillery units were utilizing the abbey as an extremely useful observation post, as well as being strategically located for a much-needed breakthrough on German defenses in order to infiltrate a heavily occupied Rome.

The loss of life was massive in this controversial operation, with the Allies losing 55,000 soldiers and an estimated 20,000 killed and wounded German soldiers.
Prior to the start of the Battle, German officer Captain Maximilian Becker and Austrian officer Lieutenant Colonel Julius Schlegel had arranged for the majority of the abbey’s artifacts, library archives and documents, and numerous other priceless treasures to be moved for safe-keeping at the Vatican City in Rome. This massive task took months to finish, along with hundreds of men and monks to accompany everything.

After the war ended, the abbot Ildefonso Rea headed the project to rebuild Montecassino precisely where it stood before, in all its former glory as well as repatriate all the valuables and documents that had been held at the Vatican during the war. The resurrected abbey was reconsecrated in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.

The Revival of the Montecassino Abbey

Since Montecassino had been destroyed, Abbot Diamare found accommodations in Rome at Saint Anselmo on Aventino, headquarters of the international university boarding school and of the Benedictine Abbot primate. The Abbot gave orders from here to his monks displaced in San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Farfa, Perugia and Assisi, returning to everyday life but always with a clear objective of returning to Montecassino.

In fact, on March 31, 1944, the Abbot with a few monks were able to return to the dioceses and on March 15, 1945, Abbot Diamare laid down the first stone for the reconstruction of Saint Joseph, a temporary dwelling for the monks next to the Abbey. He was not able to see his Monastery reconstructed since he died a few months afterwards.

During the 15th centennial of the birth of Saint Benedict, the Montecassino Abbey promoted various spiritual, pastoral and cultural initiatives, inaugurated during the pastoral visit of John Paul II on May 18, 1979. He was welcomed by all of the abbots and abbesses worldwide during his second visit on September 20, 1980. During this visit the Holy Father meditated on the meaning of the place where he was, defining it as small point of Europe where the evangelic adventure of western monasticism began.

Lectio Divina

The ancient practice of Lectio Divina literally means “divine reading” and is a method of prayer, study, and meditation fundamental to Benedictine life since the 6th century. Traditionally practiced individually and privately, the Lectio Divina approaches the study and prayer of scripture as something to be calmly and carefully absorbed and understood. The ultimate goal to this spiritual technique is to spend some time, physically and mentally, with God through his word.

The Lectio Divina is divided into different phases: reading/listening, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. The rhythm of the Lectio Divina is a gentle alternation between action and reception: reading the words and thereby entering a conversation with God. By focusing on a selected scripture, one waits and listens for God’s voice. The individual practicing Lectio Divina is both listening to and speaking with God, united with Him via his words.

Though followers of St. Benedict have faithfully practiced Lectio Divina since the 6th century, it has experienced a revival in the 20th and 21st centuries. Pope Paul VI with his document Dei Verbum and the establishment of the Second Vatican Council expressed the importance of this ancient practice in the 20th century. Even more recently Pope Benedict XVI restated the significance of the Lectio Divina in 2005, explaining that “Lectio divina should therefore be increasingly encouraged [….] It should never be forgotten that the Word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path”.

Practice Lectio Divina

The ancient practice of Lectio Divina, meaning “divine reading”, approaches the study and prayer of scripture as something to be calmly and carefully absorbed, understood, and focused on. There are several phases of the Lectio Divina: reading/listening, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. The experience should be a gentle alternation between action (reading and spoken prayer, and conversation with God, for example) and reception (silence, reflection, meditation, listening, both to God and His words).

Lectio Divina should be done in a quiet place, where you can be alone, without interruption. First, choose a text to focus on. For example the chosen text can be from Eucharistic liturgy, daily prayers or affirmations, or from the Gospel; there are no specific requirements regarding the texts used during this practice nor are there requirements on reading a certain amount each time you practice the Lectio Divina. Next, embrace silence. Focus on your breathing, or repeat a prayer silently, as you relax and allow yourself to let go of noise and distractions. Once you are silent and focused, you can start to intently read the text you chose. Take your time, read very slowly, in order to take in each individual word and its sound. While reading, be sure that you are also listening, as you wander calmly through the words of God. When you arrive to a word or phrase that you feel grabs your attention, stop, and repeat it, memorizing it, absorbing it.

You may find your thoughts wandering into memories, or current worries and distractions. This is part of the process, this is you offering your thoughts, concerns, and mind to God and this in turn is God speaking and listening to you. This should lead you to the next phase, of conversing with God; you can “speak” with your thoughts, ideas, your inner voice, or out loud. You should feel calm and relaxed: this is you interacting with God, who is happy to visit with you. Then you can remain in contemplative silence, in God’s company, and return to the text when you feel it’s right. Remember that the goal is not to complete a certain amount of text or reading, but to connect with God by reading his words.

 

BY CAR
Driving along the A1 Highway, the Abbey is normally seen from far, and you will easily find the gate Cassino where many signs will guide you to the bottom of the mountain, and then up for 8 km .

BY TRAIN
CHECK TIMETABLE on Trenitalia website
Leaving your car at home, you will experience that Cassino is also comfortably approachable by train from the main towns. A bus leaving from the train station reaches the Abbey at around 10:20 am, 12:50 pm and then at 4 pm. It leaves from the Monastery at 10:30 am, 1 pm and 5 pm.

They are only one hour and thirty minutes far from Fiumicino Airport in Rome, and one-hour drive from the Napoli Capodichino Airport.

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