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Monastero di San Benedetto,

Subiaco (Lazio)

 South of Rome

 

Montecassino - link to page on Benedict's later monastery

Italian Abbey, Monastery and Cathedral Photo Page Links

 

Contemporary Portrait of Pope Innocent III

Contemporary Portrait of Saint Francis of Assisi

 

 

Photo Holly Hayes - Sacred Destinations - where there is a very good information page and lots more photos.

 

 

 

 

"Sacro Speco" - the cave where Saint Benedict (480 - 547 (67)) lived for three years, eating food lowered in a basket to him by the hermit monk Romanus.  Benedict and his sister Santa Scholastica spent 20 years in the valley, and founded 13 monasteries and nunneries between them before moving down to the Montecassino area to spend nearly 20 more years monastery building there. 

 

The original cave where Saint Benedict lived is now part of two monasteries built back into the mountainside, one church above the other, which date from the 1200s and 1300s.   The whole complex is packed with a rich variety of frescos from the 1200s and later.  Amongst other things they depict scenes from the New Testament, from the lives of saints and popes of the time (Francis, Innocent III, Gregory IX), and death.   It's worth getting a guide book before wandering round rather than afterwards because there is not much signage.  It's also worth getting the coffee table book illustrated below, which contains magnificent reproductions of all the frescos (with text in Italian). 

 

In the photo below left the circular "flower petal" window is above the entry to the nave of the upper church.

 

 

The nave of the upper church.  The first part of the nave (above the camera position) rises to nearly twice the height of the second.  The main arch is surmounted by an epic fresco of the Crucifixion by the "Maestro Trecentesco" ..... the detail below shows the soldiers playing dice at the base of the cross .....

 

 

The north wall (below) is frescoed with pre crucifixion events.  The frescoes were done in the 1300s Sienese style with distinct hints of Giotto (OK, he came from Florence) in the faces ... the kiss of betrayal and the flight of the apostles from Gethsemane ....

 

 

 

 

Some of the close up photos photos on this page come from this beautiful coffee table book about the two Subiaco monasteries (the photo shows the top half of the cover only).  As of early 2008 the book is not available through Amazon, but copies can be  found elsewhere through a google search.  Alternatively email the monastery shop (in Italian!): monastero at benedettini-subiaco dot it. 

 

Link to Sacro Speco website

 

Below:  On the north wall of the nave, the north wall frescos by the Sienese "Maestro Trecentesco", with the slow walk with the cross and some participants and spectators plus medieval buildings ....  and, less attractively, a loud volume guide addressing a tourist group in German.

 

The south wall of the nave has paintings of the events of the resurrection (not shown here - go there or get the book!) also by the "Maestro Trecentesco" and including "Noli me tangere".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail from the procession of the cross above

 

 

 

From grand stories to monastic life

 

 

 

 

Altar at the back of the upper church

 

 

Death and grim reaping on the stairs to the Capella della Madonna and the lower church  On the landing behind the camera position is a fresco by Magister Conxolus of Pope Innocent III (1161 - 1198 - 1216 (55)), the mention of whose name created similar emotions in many, and who, together with three other Popes of the 1200s, was born in the nearby City of Anagni.

 

Photo - monastery guide book

 

 

Photo Holly Hayes - Sacred Destinations

 

 

Photo from book shown above

 

 

Above:  Saint Francis (1182 - 1226 (44)) frescoed by the Maestro di Frate Francesco in the Capella di San Gregorio.  This particular image is not simply arresting, it is unique amongst the thousands of existing images of Saint Francis, because it must have been completed during the Saint's life.  The saint is shown without a halo or the marks of the stigmata - which means he was painted before 1224. 

 

Left:  The Capella di San Gregorio is consecrated by Cardinal Ugliano (1143 - 1227 - 1241 (98)), then Bishop of Ostia and later Pope Gregory IX.  Like his uncle and papal predecessor Innocent III, Gregory was born in nearby Anagni.  It was Gregory who canonized his friend Saint Francis (and the other great contemporary Franciscan Saint Anthony) and also Saint Dominic and Saint Elizabeth (of Hungary).  Francis' face can be seen over the Pope's shoulder. 

 

It was also Gregory who took over the grind of arm wrestling with Frederick II, and he was on the way to winning this when he died, apparently aged 98 and probably exhausted.

 

The murdered (in 1170) Archbishop Thomas Becket (centre below) was the only English Saint to give rise to pan European imagery.

  

 

I Santi Stefano, Tommaso (Archbishop Thomas Becket) e Nicola - lower church - photo from book shown above

 

 

 

 

Above - The Nativity (with shepherds) and The Visit of the three Magi kings

Below - King Herod directs the Slaughter of the Innocents

by the Sienese "Maestro Trecentesco" (who also painted the upper church) in the Capella della Madonna - photos from the book shown above

 

 

 

 

 

A bit down the hill is the large nunnery complex of Santa Scolastica - Saint Benedict's twin sister and comarade in setting up numerous little monasteries and churches in the valley before moving down to Monte Cassino.

 

Sadly damage from everything from Saracens through Baroquing to WW II has left little old stuff except the campanile.

 

So rather than do the guided tour we had a close look at the shop and discovered a Grappa al Ginepro and an Amaro that were both very drinkable versions of monastic products that often are not too hot!

 

The convent also runs a restaurant and hotel / meeting centre.

 

 

The valleys of this part of Italy are pretty rugged country, with the occasional ridge top towns where it is easy to imagine that the parish priest still rules.

 

 

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