Roughly 130 kilometers southeast of Rome, atop a large rocky hillside, stands the famous Benedictine Abbey of Monte Casino. Constructed in the year 529 over the ruins of an ancient pagan temple, the abbey is said to be the birthplace of the Benedictine Rule of Life. It was in this very place that the principles of Western Monasticism were established; principles which are still observed by the Benedictine community here today.
Despite its fame, the history of the abbey has been a turbulent one, as it was subject to multiple sackings during medieval conflicts, was briefly taken over by Napoleon’s troops in 1799, and most recently was partially destroyed during a series of Allied Air Attacks in World War II.
In the aftermath of the war, the main altar was found to be miraculously intact, with a single, unexploded bomb lodged underneath. As it turned out, this was also the exact location of the tomb of St. Benedict himself, and his sister, St. Scholastica, both of which were preserved from the devastation.
Most of the original artwork was preserved by the monks who fled prior to the attack, and in the early 1950’s Italian government ordered the monastery to be reconstructed according to the exact specifications of the original.
Thus, the abbey of Monte Casino today is unique among shrines, as the design is ancient yet the materials are brand new. Entering the shrine is like taking a step back in time to when the abbey was first built. The vibrant colors, the lavish gold, and the magnificent detail all come together to create a snapshot of the Faith as it was during the lives of two of Church’s greatest saints. And it’s an experience that no pilgrim will easily forget.