Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Monte Cassino Abbey.

Text and Illustrations from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

Interior of the Basilica of Monte Cassino Abbey.
Photo: 4 September 2012.
Source: Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Monte Cassino Abbey.
Photo: July 2007.
Source: Own work.
Author: Pilecka.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Monte Cassino (sometimes written Montecassino) is a rocky hill about 130 kilometres (81 miles) South-East of Rome, Italy, 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) to the West of the Town of Cassino (the Roman Casinum, having been on the hill) and 520 m (1,706 ft) altitude. Saint Benedict of Nursia established his first Monastery, here, the source of the Benedictine Order, around 529 A.D.

It was the site of the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944, when the building was destroyed by Allied bombing and re-built after the war. The site has been visited many times by Popes and other senior Clergy, including Pope Benedict XVI in May 2009. The Monastery is one of the few remaining Territorial Abbeys within the Catholic Church. Until his resignation was accepted by Pope Francis on 12 June 2013, the Territorial Abbot of Monte Cassino was Pietro Vittorelli.

English: Monte Cassino Arch-Abbey, Italy, at Dusk.
Deutsch: Erzabtei Monte Cassino.
Latina: Archiabbatia de Monte Cassino, Italien.
Italiano: Archiabbazia di Monte Cassino, Italia.
Photo: 18 December 2004.
Source: Own work.
Author: Halibutt.
(Wikimedia Commons)

According to Gregory the Great's biography of Benedict, "Life of Saint Benedict of Nursia", the Monastery was constructed on an older pagan site, a temple of Apollo that crowned the hill. The biography records that the area was still largely pagan at the time and Benedict's first act was to smash the sculpture of Apollo and destroy the altar.

He then re-used the temple, dedicating it to Saint Martin, and built another Chapel on the site of the altar, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Archaeologist Neil Christie notes that it was common in such hagiographies for the protagonist to encounter areas of strong paganism. Once established at Monte Cassino, Benedict never left. There he wrote the Benedictine Rule that became the founding principle for Western Monasticism. There at Monte Cassino he received a visit from Totila, King of the Ostrogoths, perhaps in 543 A.D., (the only remotely secure historical date for Benedict), and there he died.

English: Monte Cassino Abbey after the bombing, 1944.
Italiano: Rovine di Monte Cassino, 1944.
Photo: 1944.
Source: Copied from the Italian Wikipedia. Originally from this page
(Wikimedia Commons)

Monte Cassino became a model for future developments. Unfortunately, its prominent site has always made it an object of strategic importance. It was sacked or destroyed a number of times. In 581 A.D., during the Abbacy of Bonitus, the Lombards sacked the Abbey, and the surviving Monks fled to Rome, where they remained for more than a Century. During this time, the body of Saint Benedict was transferred to Fleury, the modern Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire, near Orleans, France.

A flourishing period of Monte Cassino followed its re-establishment in 718 A.D., by Abbot Petronax, when, among the Monks, were Carloman, son of Charles MartelRatchis, predecessor of the great Lombard Duke and King, Aistulf, and Paul the Deacon, the historian of the Lombards.

The Polish War Cemetery,
Monte Cassino Abbey.
Source: Own work.
Author: Radomił.
(Wikimedia Commons)

In 744 A.D., a donation by Gisulf II of Benevento created the Terra Sancti Benedicti, the Secular Lands of the Abbacy, which were subject to the Abbot and nobody else, save the Pope. Thus, the Monastery became the Capital of a State, comprising a compact and strategic region between the Lombard Principality of Benevento and the Byzantine City-States of the Coast (Naples, Gaeta, and Amalfi).

In 884 A.D., Saracens sacked and then burned it down, and Abbot Bertharius was killed during the attack. Among the great historians who worked at the Monastery, in this period, there was Erchempert, whose Historia Langobardorum Beneventanorum is a fundamental Chronicle of the 9th-Century Mezzogiorno.

It was rebuilt and reached the apex of its fame in the 11th-Century, under the Abbot, Desiderius (Abbot 1058–1087), who later became Pope Victor III. The number of Monks rose to over 200, and the Library, the Manuscripts produced in the Scriptorium, and the School of Manuscript Illuminators, became famous throughout the West. The unique Beneventan Script flourished there during Desiderius' Abbacy.

Monte Cassino's Cloistered Garden.
Date: July 2007.
Source: Own work.
Author: Pilecka.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The buildings of the Monastery were reconstructed on a scale of great magnificence, artists being brought from Amalfi, Lombardy, and even Constantinople, to supervise the various works. The Abbey Church, rebuilt and decorated with the utmost splendour, was Consecrated, in 1071, by Pope Alexander II. A detailed account of the Abbey, at this date, exists in the Chronica monasterii Cassinensis, by Leo of Ostia,and Amatus of Monte Cassino gives us our best source on the Early-Normans in the South.

Abbot Desiderius sent envoys to Constantinople, some time after 1066, to hire expert Byzantine Mosaicists for the decoration of the rebuilt Abbey Church. According to the Chronicler, Leo of Ostia, the Greek artists decorated the Apse, the Arch and the Vestibule of the Basilica. Their work was admired by contemporaries but was totally destroyed in later Centuries, except two fragments depicting greyhounds (now in the Monte Cassino Museum). "The Abbot, in his wisdom, decided that great numbers of young Monks in the Monastery should be thoroughly initiated in these arts" - says the Chronicler about the role of the Greeks in the revival of Mosaic art in Mediaeval Italy.

An earthquake damaged the Abbey in 1349, and, although the site was rebuilt, it marked the beginning of a long period of decline. In 1321, Pope John XXII made the Church of Monte Cassino a Cathedral, and the carefully preserved independence of the Monastery from episcopal interference was at an end. In 1505, the Monastery was joined with that of Saint Justina of Padua.

The Crypt,
Monte Cassino Abbey.
Photo: 4 September 2012.
Source: Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The site was sacked by Napoleon's troops in 1799 and, from the dissolution of the Italian Monasteries in 1866, Monte Cassino became a national monument.

During the Battle of Monte Cassino (January 1944 – May 1944), the Abbey made up one section of the 161-kilometer (100-mile) Gustav Line, a German Defensive Line designed to hold the Allied troops from advancing any further into Italy. The Gustav Line stretched from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Adriatic Coast and the Monastery was one of the key strongholds, overlooking Highway 6 and blocking the path to Rome.

On 15 February 1944, the Abbey was almost completely destroyed in a series of heavy American-led air-raids. The bombing was conducted because many reports from troops on the ground suggested that Germans were occupying the Monastery, and it was considered a key Observation Post by all those who were fighting.

However, during the bombing, no Germans were present in the Abbey. Subsequent investigations have since confirmed that the only people killed in the Monastery by the bombing were 230 Italian civilians seeking refuge there. Only after the bombing were the ruins of the Monastery occupied by German Fallschirmjäger (Paratroopers), aiding them in their defence, because the ruins provided excellent defensive cover.

Deutsch: Monte Cassino-ein Trümmerfeld83 anglo-amerikanische Bomber haben am 15. Februar ihre Bombenlast über dem ehrwürdigen Kloster von Monte Cassino, der Geburtsstätte des Benediktinerordens abgeworfen. Das herrliche Bauwerk wurde vollständig zerstört und unersetzliche Kulturwerte vernichtet. Als Vorwand der Bombardierung diente die Behauptung, deutsche Truppen hätten das Kloster als Artilleriefestung ausgebaut, eine Behauptung, die inzwischen durch Erklärungen der Mönche von Monte Cassino restlos entkräftet wurde. PK-L 2242.
English: Monte Cassino in ruins after Allied bombing in February 1944.
Date: February 1944.
Photographer: Wittke.
Source: This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the
German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv) as part of a co-operation project.
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2005-0004 / Wittke / CC-BY-SA.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The heavily-outnumbered Germans held the position until withdrawing on 17 May 1944, having repulsed four Main Offensives by the 2nd New Zealand Division, the 4th Indian Division and II Polish Corps. The Allied Forces broke the Gustav Line between 11 May 1944 and 17 May 1944. The Polish 12th Podolian Uhlans Regiment of the Polish II Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. Władysław Anders, raised the Polish flag over the ruins on 18 May 1944. The road to Rome was then open.

The Abbey was rebuilt after the war; Pope Paul VI re-Consecrated it in 1964. During reconstruction, its Library was housed at the Pontifical Abbey of Saint Jerome-in-the-City.

English: The Nave,
Monte Cassino Abbey.
Italiano: Abbazia di Montecassino, Lazio, Italia.
Photo: 17 July 2006.
Source: Aaron Logan's Loblogomy.
Author: [1]
(Wikimedia Commons)

In December 1942, some 1,400 irreplaceable manuscript codices, chiefly patristic and historical, in addition to a vast number of documents relating to the history of the Abbey and the collections of the Keats-Shelley Memorial House in Rome, had been sent to the Abbey archives for safekeeping. Fortunately, German officers Lt. Col. Julius Schlegel (a Roman Catholic) and Capt. Maximilian Becker (a Protestant), both from the Panzer-Division Hermann Göring, had them transferred to the Vatican at the beginning of the battle.

Another account, however, from Kurowski ("The History of the Fallschirmpanzerkorps Hermann Göring: Soldiers of the Reichsmarschall") notes that 120 trucks were loaded with Monastic assets and art which had been stored there for safekeeping. Robert Edsel ("Rescuing DaVinci") is more to the point about German looting. The trucks were loaded and left in October 1943, and only "strenuous" protests resulted in their delivery to the Vatican, minus the 15 cases which contained the property of the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Edsel goes on to note that these cases had been delivered to Göring in December 1943, for "his birthday."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...