The Montecassino Abbey

P1130776By the end of February 15, 1944, the Montecassino Abbey, which was established by St. Benedict in the mountains an hour south of Rome, lay in ruins. World War II wasn’t the first time that the abbey was devastated. Fifty years after it was built in 529 AD, the Longobards destroyed it. It was rebuilt in the early eighth century and then sacked by the Saracens in 883. In 1349 an earthquake felled the abbey, leaving nothing in its wake but a few walls.

Entrance

Entrance

During World War II, the abbey made up part of the Gustav Line, a German defensive line designed to keep the Allies from advancing north. Although both the Allies and Axis leaders promised the pope that they would not harm the abbey and although the abbot swore that no Germans stayed there, flawed intelligence led the Allies to believe that Germans were occupying the abbey, and American-led air raids smashed it to smithereens in just three hours.

Following the air raid, the Germans quickly occupied it and its surrounding high ground, and for three months, the hilltop witnessed fierce fighting between the Germans and the Allies, including New Zealand, British Indian, and Polish corps. The Germans finally withdrew on May 17. When the Allies moved into the abbey, they discovered that the only casualties of the February raid were 230 Italian civilians who sought safety there. The abbey had been demolished for nothing.

Entrance cloister with a statue of a dying St. Benedict and a mosaic of Christ between Mary and St. Martin

Entrance cloister with a statue of a dying St. Benedict and a mosaic of Christ between Mary and St. Martin

At the end of the war a fierce public outcry demanded that the abbey be rebuilt. The reconstruction was exclusively financed by the Italian state, and the abbey was rebuilt according to old architectural plans, using as many remains as could be found. The abbey was reconsecrated in 1964.

Today the abbey sits peacefully atop its mountain, a beacon to pilgrims and people driving on the autostrada between Naples and Rome.  Charlie, Michael, and I visited the beautiful, serene abbey in September, and it was one of the highlights of our three weeks together. Touring the abbey requires much physical stamina. To see the cathedral, visitors must walk up steep hills and climb seemingly endless stairways. Despite Charlie’s knee, he climbed to the top and was so glad he did. The Montecassino Abbey is a glorious place and worth the effort.

Ciao!

Detail near the entrance

Detail near the entrance

Bramante Cloister

Bramante Cloister

View from the Bramante Cloister

View from the Bramante Cloister

Polish War Cemetery next to the abbey - more than 1,000 soldiers are buried there

Polish War Cemetery next to the abbey – more than 1,000 soldiers are buried there

Bramante cloister - the stairs lead to the cathedral

Bramante Cloister – the stairs lead to the cathedral

I loved these nuns climbing the steps to the cathedral.

I loved these nuns climbing the steps to the cathedral.

This statue of St. Benedict, dated 1736, was almost untouched in the war.

This statue of St. Benedict, dated 1736, was almost untouched in the war.

Bronze doors to the basilica - made in 1066 in Constantinople; the inscriptions have great historical value and list the possessions and churches depending on Montecassino in the 11th and 12th century.

Bronze doors to the basilica – made in 1066 in Constantinople; the inscriptions have great historical value and list the possessions and churches depending on Montecassino in the 11th and 12th century.

Vaulted ceiling of the nave - all of the frescoes are gone

Vaulted ceiling of the nave – all of the frescoes are gone

Looking at the high altar from the nave

Looking at the high altar from the nave

Stairs leading behind the high altar

Stairs leading behind the high altar

Cathedral dome

Cathedral dome

Ceiling above the high altar [photo by C. Gehringer)

Ceiling above the high altar [photo by C. Gehringer)

Near the cathedral high altar

Near the cathedral high altar

This 16th-century fresco of angels was not destroyed during the war.

This 16th-century fresco of angels was not destroyed during the war.

Cathedral organ

Cathedral organ [photo by C. Gehringer]

View of the valley north of the abbey

View of the valley north of the abbey

Mosaic in the entrance cloister

Mosaic in the entrance cloister

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6 Responses to The Montecassino Abbey

  1. Sandi Triplett Shriver says:

    Thank you, Susan. I so look forward to your beautiful posts!

    • skdyer7 says:

      You are so kind. I’ve had so many photos to sort recently that I haven’t had TIME to post. More will follow this week, I hope. And I hope you are doing well from all of your broken pieces!

  2. nikkimackan says:

    Oh Sue!! It is absolutely beautiful!!! I too would make the effort to do all the climbing and walking to see something so beautiful!!! Though, those stairs the sisters were on looked a little scary without Eddy to hold onto!!

  3. Diane says:

    Sue, love your pictures and descriptions. So glad Charlie made the climb. It was surely worth his while. Looking forward to seeing you ALL at Alison’s wedding.

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