Saturday, December 26, 2009

Montecasino

Today we visited Montecasino on our way down from Sienna to Naples. The Abby is on the top of a huge mountain. I found the history of the abbey rather comical. The Abby (founded in 529 by St. Benedict) was built on the foundations of Roman fortifications. It was destroyed first 577 by the Lombards; then the Saracens sacked it in 883. An earthquake then destroyed it again in 1349. A few fires burned down buildings over the next few hundred years, until, finally, the last time it was destroyed was in 1944 when it was bombarded. Being right between the Allied and Nazi forces, it's strategic location was bound to be destroyed. Saints Benedict and Scolastica lived and their relics were kept here. However, considering the number of times it has been destroyed, there is nothing left of them.
The abbey was rebuilt the last time in the 50's and the reconstruction was financed generously by the Italian State. To their credit- they put the money to good use: the abbey is beautiful. Amazingly, the front doors of the cathedral somehow did survive. Made of solid bronze, were a gift from Maudo of Amalfi, and were shipped from Constantinople in 1066. The doors listed the possessions and churches dependent on Montecasino in the 11th century in silver lettering. The fa├žade is a very simple- rhythmic geometric forms of the classical Renaissance style. The only adornment was the coat of arms of Montecasino and the abbots in the pediment: a rampant lion and a tower between two cypress trees. The working abbey, home of dozens of monks and nuns today, was a beautiful sight.
While waiting for the abbey to open for visitors, we discussed what I would be like to live in such a place, and by what means and manner the nuns would entertain themselves. Eventually we imagined all the nuns, complete in their habits, dancing to "single ladies" (because none of them are married) just like in Mel Brook's film (see The History of the World Part 1- Inquisition scene for a fuller depiction of what it would be like).

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