The Monastery of S. Benedict
The monastery of St Benedict is one of the most famous and beautiful monastery in the world. It is really important and interesting first of all, in this monastery is kept the Cave, the so-called Sacro Speco, where Benedict lived as a hermit for about three years.Besides, the architecture is very interesting with the beautiful chapels built around natural caves, the wonderful mosaics, the two churches. The whole building was realized around the Holy Cave from the IX to the XVIII century. The monastery, last but not least, is also beautiful thanks to the different painting schools which worked here, belonging to different periods: from byzantine to gothic school, from Perugino to umbro-marchigiana and to romano popolare school. The frescoes are preserved and good restructured.
THE UPPER CHURCH
The upper church can be divided into two main parts, belonging to different painting schools.
The frescoes in the first part date back to the XIV century and they belong to the senese school. They represent/show the last period of Jesus Christ’s life (In the first part worked the senese school, during the XIV century and the frescoes show the last period of Jesus Christ’s life):
1) THE ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM (PALMSUNDAY)
3) THE FLIGHT OF THE APOSTLES
4) THE SCOURGING
5) CHRIST IS CONDAMNED
6) THE CHRIST JOURNAY TO CALVARY
8) AN ANGEL APPEARS TO THE THREE WOMEN (ON THE EMPTY SEPULCHRE)
9) CHRIST APPEARS TO MARY MAGDALEN
10) ST, THOMAS WHO TOUCHES CHRIST’S WOUNDS
11) LORD’S ASCENSION
12) THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
On the ceiling the four doctors of the latin church: Ambrogio, Agostino, Gregorio Magno, Girolamo. The beautiful MOSAICS of the floor were made by the cosmati family, a very well known family who worked in the XIII century with marble and mosaics. They are in Opus Tessellatum.
THE ORIGINAL PULPIT is in marble and belongs to the Romanesque church from the XIII century, which was here before the restoration of the XIV century. The so-called “leggio”, is an eagle supporting a bookstand on his opened wings.
THE SECOND PART of the church was painted by the umbro-marchigiana school, at the beginning of the XV century. The frescoes represent episodes and miracles from B.’s life.
THE ATTEMPT ON THE LIFE OF ST. B. BY THE MONKS FROM VICOVARO. (on the right)
There was a monastery with a community in Vicovaro and the monks wanted B. as their abbot. After a period of time they couldn’t support his holy rule and tried to kill him with poisoned wine. When B. blessed the wine, the cup was broken.
THE CURE OF LAZY MONK (beside/next to)
A monk in the community used to leave the choir while his brothers stayed there in prayer. A little devil brought the monk in temptation and B. cured him by striking him with a long rod.
BENEDICT IN THE THORNY BRAMBLE ( on the left)
When B. was living in the cave as a hermit, the devil tried to bring him in temptation appearing him as a beautiful girl. In order to win/overcome the temptation, B. threw (throw-threw-thrown) himself in a thorny bramble .
THE MAIN ALTAR is a cosmati work, with precious marble and wonderful mosaics: on the left and on the right are two beautiful pillars with mosaics too, as the floor in front of it.
The chapel of the main altar takes form from the original cave of the mountain, where it was built. On the right of the altar there is the TRANSETTO, which shows some interesting frescoes about Scholastica.
Under the first arch is reproduced the LAST MEETING between B. and Sc. in Monte Cassino, where Sc. lived. During the meeting Sc. Asked B. to stay in her monastery for spending all night in prayer. B. declined the invitation because he wanted to come back to his monastery where the community was waiting for him. Sc. then, disappointed and embittered, prayed God: suddenly came a so dangerous storm that B. couldn’t go away. “The charity is most important then the rule”. Three days after this last meeting, B. saw from his cell a dove flies in the sky and understood that Sc. was died and her soul was coming back to the father’s house, flying in the shape of a dove, today St. Sc.’ symbol.
In the LOWER CHURCH is preserved (kept) the cave where B. lived as hermit for about three years.
The steps leads to a first floor; the frescoes date back to the end of the XIIIth (thirteenth) century and belong to the “Romano Popolare” school, which didn’t know the perspective yet. They represent episodes of B.’s life.
- On the right (side) there is a byzantine painting that dates back to the beginning of the XIIIth century: it is INNOCENZO III. The pope is holding the bull with which he presented some revenue to Sacro Speco in 1203.
- On the left, (on the other side), in the apse, OUR LADY WITH THE CHILD, between two angels. The expression and the beauty of Mother Mary’s face are very interesting and it’s an important fresco because it’s the only one (in the monastery), that is signed by its painter (author) as it’s possible to read on the left :“Magister Conxolus pixit hoc opus”.
- Next to this fresco/on the left wall (THE MIRACLE IN AFFILE, the first that he did. He repaired a broken sieve) THE MEETING WITH ST. ROMANO and THE WITHDRAWAL INTO THE CAVE. The monk Romano was living on this mountain with a monks community when he received B., gave him a monastic habit (dress) and show him a cave where to live.
- On the ceiling can be admired THE FOUR EVANGELISTS in their beautiful forms/symbols: Matthew the Angel, John the Eagle, Marc the Lion, Luke the Ox. In the middle/among them/ there is Christ in the symbol of Resurrection,
which is the lamb without wound.
The steps leads to a second floor where is the HOLY CAVE.
The Holy Cave represents the heart of the monastery and the heart of the benedectine monasticism. The beautiful building we admire today was realized around the cave, from XI to XVII century and the benedectine experience(order) began/started/made its first steps in this place.
B. lived in this cave as a hermit for about three years, according to his biography. The monk Romano only knew B. and brought him food from above using a basket and a rope. The fresco from Magister Conxolus, a well known painter of the romano-popolare school (XIIIth), show this fact.
In the Sacro Speco is a STATUE representing B. in Prayer in the cave at the beginning of his experience, when he was very young. The statue was made from Raggi, a follower from Bernini, in the XVIIth century. The PAVMENT and the little ALTAR are in cosmatesco style.
The twelve lamps remember us the number of the monasteries which were founded by B. in Subiaco.
THE MAIN LAMP in front of the statue is here since 1964, when the pope Paul VI proclaimed B. Europe Patron Saint. It’s a prayer to the European unity. The benedectine monasticism is really important in the European history thanks to different reasons:
- a first example of united Europe was given by the religion, which was one in all Europe, thanks to the preaching of B. monks.
- latin has been the official language in Europe from the IXth to the XIVth century and the official documents were kept in the monasteries’ libraries, the only places which were good controlled.
- the so called amanuensi saved the ancient culture with their important work, that was to copy the important manuscripts, otherwise destroyed.
In the hall/floor next to/in front of/near the Holy Cave can be admired frescoes which belong to the romano-popolare school and show St. B.’s miracles, according to his biography
On the right wall is reproduced THE MIRACLE OF ST. PLACID. Maurus and Placid were the first two boys who followed B. in his monastic experience. One day the young Placid had fallen into a (Nero’s) lake. B. from the cave, thamks to the help of the Holy Spirit, saw this fact and ordered Maurus to go quickly there (in order to save) for saving Placid.
Maurus, in obedience to B. ‘s order, run quickly down on the valley and run on the water of the lake, without beimg aware of it. When Placid was saved, told him it was B. and not Maurus that he saw on the lake.
On the main wall is reproduced FLORENTIUS’ ATTEMPT.
The parson of Subiaco, Florentius, wanted to kill B. with a poisoned bread. He couldn’t accept the Holy way of life of B. and sent a girl to B. with a poisoned bread. When B. blessed the meal in order to it with Maurus and Placid, a crow took the bread away from them. The Holy Spirit saved B. That’s why the B.’s symbol is a crow.
Near the Holy Cave, on the left site of the entrance, there is a steps which leads to a hidden floor where there is the ST. GREGOR CHAPEL. The beautiful little chapel of the monastery was consecrated in 1224 by cardinal Ugolino, who will became Pope with the name of Gregor the IXth.
At that time was in Subiaco Franesco from Assisi and he was here at the consecration of the chapel, as it can be seen in the fresco on the left wall of the chapel behind the cardinal Ugolino, who was his friend.
During his stay in Subiaco, was made a fresco in this chapel about him and it is the only one in the word made when he was still alive, without stigmata and halo. It is called, for this reason, the portrait of St. Francesco, considered one of the most important frescoes about him in the word.
On the left is THE HOLY STEPS which lead to OUR LADY’S CHAPEL. The frescoes on the wall are made by the senese painting school, that worked here in the XIVth century.
On the left wall, a monk shows three young men THE HUMAN BODY AFTER DEATH in three different stages.
On the right wall, the TRIUMPH OF DEATH. The death, in the shape of a skeleton, with long white hair, is riding a white and full of life horse and he is striking a young man with his long sword. This man is talking to a friend and doesn’t know he has to die. Beneath the horse, lie some who are already dead. The death is followed by some other old people who would like to die but they are still alive. The death is blind and you have to pay attention to be ready because you don’t know the day and the right time of your death.
B. knew the right time of his death and when it arrived, he wanted to be out, in the middle of his cloister in Cassino and, with the help of his monks, he died standing up, with his look and his arms elevated to the/towards the sky.
OUR LADY’S CHAPEL
The painting school is from Siena and dates back to the XIVth century. The frescoes are about Our Lady’s Life. On the ceiling:
- MARY, MOTHER OF THE CHURCH, under the cloak there is all the church
- THE ANNUNCIATION
- THE PRESENTATION JESUS IN THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM
On the wall:
- BIRTH JESUS (NATIVITY)
- THE VISIT OF THE MAGI. The first king is on one’s knees without his crown, in adoration of Jesus, who is considered king of the kings. Jesus with the left hand play with the white hair of the king, in accordance with his human nature, with the right hand he blesses the king in accordance with his divine nature. Humanity and Divinity, the two Jesus’ natures which make him King of the Kings. The blessing of Jesus is in byzantine style, it means the hunity between humanity and divinity.
- THE DORMITIO MARIAE. The last dogma of the catholic church. Mary isn’t died but she was asleep. The people in Jerusalem wonted to burn her body but they became blind for a period of time/for a while, while the apostles saved her body, according to an apocryphal Gospel.
- THE ASCENSION. After this fact, she was assumed in the sky. The relation between Our Lady and Jesus is wonderful: they are embraced as a mother and her son, sitting on a throne. The Angels around them give us the sense of movement: someone is playing, someone is singing and someone else is dancing. It shows us the movement of the Ascension.
- THE CORONATION OF OUR LADY, queen of the skies. In this situation, a moment later, there isn’t movement anymore. The angels are in adoration of the event: Jesus, as the father, is crowing Mary, as a daughter, as Queen of the Angels and the Saints.
The steps leads to THE SHEPHERD’S CAVE. It’s the place where B. met the shepherds who used to come here with the intention to pray with him, according to his biography. There is an important fresco from IXth century in byzantine style, which represents Our Lady with her Child. It is the most ancient fresco of the Subiaco’s Valley and confirms the oral tradition and the B.’s Biography.
At the end of the steps, the door leads out to THE ROSE GARDEN. At the time when B. was in the cave as germit, one day the devil wanted to bring him in temptation and appeared to him in the cave as a beautiful girl. In order to win/overcome the temptation, B. threw (throw-threw-thrown) himself in a thorny bramble. In 1224 Francesco from Assisi came to Subiaco and lived here for about two months. He put the roses in the bramble and since that time we have a rosegarden in the same place, to remember this fact and the two important Saints.