Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Monte Cassino and Rome ... from a few days ago.

After spending a couple days exploring Naples/re-adjusting to land, we left for Rome early Friday morning. We've seen lots of sites in Naples - from touring the Royal Palace to the Archeological Museum, so I think everyone was ready for a travel day.

A couple hours into our drive, we arrived in Montecassino. The view from the mountains was breathtaking. But the big draw of the town, and our first stop, was the Benedictine Monastery, Monte Cassino. It was founded by St. Benedict in the 6th Century AD. Throughout his life, he instituted a lot of changes. The founder of the "western" monasticism, he wrote the first guide to being a monk. St. Benedict was also responsible for changing the hermit lifestyle of monks to create a religious community within the monastery.

Our tour began with the central garden, which lies on top of the foundation of what was once a Greek temple. This course is all about examining the cross-cultural influences on Italy and their effects. By tracing Monte Cassino's roots to what existed before the monastery, we can understand why structures are built the way they are. We had an amazing tour guide (11/10 would recommend) who took us through each of the rooms.

St. Benedict's personal cell was still intact from its creation, but there were modern Frescoes on the wall. They depicted St. Benedict's various visions, and biblical stories.

We also learned about the monastery's violent past. It has been destroyed 4 times. The first was in 577 by Lombards. The second destruction came roughly 300 years later, by the Muslims/Turks. In 1449, the abbey was destroyed by an earthquake, the only time a natural disaster was the cause. The most recent destruction happened in 1944, during WWII. According to our tour guide, the allied forces thought German soldiers were hidden in the Monte Cassino, so they bombed it. However, the German soldiers were actually scattered in the woods around the monastery. The bombing destroyed 85% of the old abbey, and killed more than 800 civilians, who had hidden in the abbey for safety.
7 days after the bombing, the Germans hid in the ruins. Many battles later, the Polish were the first to free the abbey in 1944. This is why there is also a Polish cemetery by the monastery.

We next went to the old part of Monte Cassino. There are thousands of manuscripts hidden in the library, written by monks, but some of the most telling information came from reading the preserved funeral plaques.

After observing a gorgeous view of the town below, our tour guide took us into the attached Baroque-style Church. This is where St. Thomas of Aquinas studied.

We left the monastery around 12:30pm and headed for Rome. We stopped at an Autogrill (highway food) for lunch. It was a cultural experience - looking around various mini shops, eating Suppli, and having to navigate the language barrier.

2 hours later, once we arrived at our hotel in Rome, Mike decided to take us on an adventure. He pointed out "the wedding cake", and took us to the Trevi fountain. We all threw a coin in, hoping that one day we'll come back to Italy. But for now, we are enjoying the present - cobblestone streets, shops, the rich religious and cultural history and of course, gelato!

-Jen F

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