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Rebuilt after WW II, Montecassino Monastery remains a testament to St. Benedict

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 2nd, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Founded by St. Benedict in 529 AD, Montecassino Monastery has had a long and troubled history, suffering from repeated attacks, pillaging and natural disasters. The site of a bloody battle during World War II that cost hundreds of lives coupled with the complete destruction of the monastic buildings, the monastery has since been rebuilt to receive visitors.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The monastery is located in the Italian town of Montecassino, which is also spelled Monte Cassino, about 80 miles south of Rome. The monastery is the home of the sacred relics and monastery of St. Benedict, the patron saint of Europe and the founder of western monasticism.

The monastery has always been rebuilt several times over the centuries. The relics of Saints Benedict and Scholastica have survived through all the turmoil. The building that visitors see today was constructed after 1944 using the old plans.

St. Benedict was born to a noble family in Nursia, a small town near Spoleto, around 480 AD. He originally set out to live a quiet and contemplative life as a hermit, but began to attract devoted followers.

Benedict first established himself in a small cave 50 miles from Rome in Subiaco. Benedict quickly 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. It was there 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. Montecassino had become the wealthiest monastery in the world by the 11th century.

In World War II, the hill of Monte Cassino was part of a German defensive line guarding the approaches to Rome. Allied troops assaulted Montecassino, and the monastery was finally destroyed by air bombardment. The hill was captured at a horrific loss of life by the Polish Army and Italian refugees. However, after the war, the abbey was rebuilt based on the original plans.

Montecassino today is a working monastery and continues to be a pilgrimage site by virtue of the surviving relics of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. It is also a popular tourist destination for its historical importance and its beautiful buildings.

Rebuilt in the 1940s, Montecassino Abbey sits atop a large hill. The city of Cassino is underneath. A vast Polish war cemetery covers a hillside across the valley, which can be easily seen from the abbey.

The basilica, richly decorated in stucco and mosaics, enshrines the relics of St. Benedict and his sister, St. Scholastica, which survived the bombings.

The abbey museum displays also 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.

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