Enchanting natural countryside and fascinating historic artefacts accompany the progress of a simple man who dedicated his life to the Lord: San Benedetto da Norcia.
The old town of Norcia lies in the midst of the Sibillini mountains, in a green valley crossed by the ancient Via Flaminia road. At the centre of this famous medieval city there is the church dedicated to the Saint, constructed as tradition dictates, at the place where Benedetto and his twin sister Scolastica, both of whom were to become saints, were born in 480
Ora et Labora, which in Latin means “pray and work”, is the famous motto of the order on the basis of which the Saint organised his Rule. Proclaimed the patron saint of Europe in modern times, he revolutionised the conception of monastic life, creating the order of the Benedictines, dedicated not only to glorifying God and prayer, but also to manual work and to assisting and taking care of the poor.
The Benedictine order ensured that monasteries were not only centres of religious life, but also of economic and cultural activities. It was in Subiaco that the patron saint of Europe organised his first confraternity. In this place, famous for Sacro Speco cave, where the Saint spent the first three years of his monastic life, we find the monasteries of San Benedetto and Santa Scolastica, which conserve ancient and illuminated manuscripts, including the first book printed in Italy in 1465. An ancient tradition relates that an imposing chestnut tree which still offers shelter to the many pilgrims visiting the monastery grew from a stick planted in the ground by the Saint, near the isolated cave.
The miracle of the recomposed earthenware sieve, which again took place near Subiaco, is also evocative. Benedetto’s nurse is said to have borrowed an earthenware sieve, which was broken accidentally; Benedetto, on seeing the woman’s tears of regret, tried to console her and through prayer made the broken pieces join together one by one.
There are no less than 13 Benedictine monasteries established by the founder. The most important is undoubtedly the Montecassino monastery, designed completely by the Saint, who died here on 21 March 547. Tradition has it that six days before his death, he ordered the tomb to be opened, feeling that his time was near. He then had the monks accompany him to the oratory, where he surrendered his soul to the Lord, supported by his disciples.