words by Katia Amore
image courtesy of osbnorcia.org
Italy represents a life changing experience to many of our readers. Whether you left it all behind to start a new life in the Bel Paese or you are currently dreaming about moving to your favourite Italian location, Italy seems to have the “power” to make you question your current way of life and look for change.
Over the years, we have heard so many interesting stories of people falling in love with a building in need of major restoration, with the cozy atmosphere of a small Italian village, with the local cuisine. Many have embraced their dream of becoming a writer, a painter, a wine or olive oil producer, leaving behind good careers and steady incomes, just to follow their Italian dream. But no radical change or move to Italy we have heard about so far can compare to the one we recently found out about: a group of monks, mainly from the USA, who breathed new life into the birthplace of St Benedict in Norcia, Umbria, in 2000.
Armed with only their faith and zeal they founded a monastic community which has been attracting men from all over the world to follow St. Benedict's ancient Rule “ora et labora”(Pray and Work).
The monastery was founded in Rome on the 3d of September 1998 and for two years the monks lived in a rented novitiate building, which was a normal apartment in which one room had been changed into a chapel. Fr. Cassian, the Prior and founder of the monastery, explains:
“We were poor, but zealous and on fire with the monastic ideal. Two years later, toward the end of the Great Jubilee Year, after searching vainly for a more suitable place to live, we were offered the possibility of moving to Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict. Here we were, a community with no monastery; while Norcia had an empty monastery but no community. After many negotiations involving abbots and bishops and cardinals, the deal was made. We rented a van and moved our few belongings, to be welcomed with huge enthusiasm by the clergy of the diocese and the people of the town, First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent, in the Jubilee Year 2000. Since then we’ve tripled in size, and we’re starting to run out of room…”
And the monastery in Norcia had remained empty for too long. Saint Benedict was the son of a Roman noble of Nursia, the modern Norcia, and his father was likely a civil magistrate so he had his lodgings adjacent to the Basilica (in the Roman sense of a building for transacting business and disposing of legal matters). St. Benedict and his twin sister St. Scholastica were born there in 480. As Benedict’s fame grew, an oratory was built to commemorate the place of his birth in the 8th century and in the 10th century monks went to Norcia and remained there in one form or another until 1810, when they were forced to flee under Napoleonic laws.
Almost two centuries later something extraordinary is happening in Norcia. Young men from around the world, leaving their home and country to follow their faith, are drawn to the “new-old” monastery and commit themselves to stability, conversion of life and obedience at the birthplace of their founder.
Recently, the monks have offered an insight into their monastic life and produced a high quality documentary which shows them as they go through the daily “ora et labora”. The title of the film, "Quaerere Deum", means to Seek God. This is the true calling of all monks, the first and most essential quality of an authentic monastic vocation, as laid out in the Rule of St. Benedict.
The documentary was filmed in the summer of 2011, produced, and edited by Peter Hayden and Wilderland FIlm Studios.
No matter what your religious beliefs are, the documentary offers a moment of reflection to all in a time of social and economic turmoil and confusion.
For more information on the Monastery of San Benedetto, visit the community's website for regular news updates, spiritual reflections, and more.