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Norcia Diary.3

St. Benedict and his basilica, Norcia

I apologize for being incommunicado these past few days. The wifi situation was dodgy the whole time in Norcia, and my last three days there, it was impossible. It’s just as well, I guess. I came down with a ferocious cold, and spent a disappointing (to me) amount of time between interviews sleeping and, when the Sudafed wasn’t really working, considering the upside of decapitation. Unfortunately my head was full of what pigs slop in, so I didn’t get to go to peeg farm.

I was taken extremely good care of by Brother Ignatius, the guestmaster at the monastery. He’s from Indonesia — Java, to be exact. He brought me cookies on my last night in town. What a great guy:


The other day I interviewed Brother Francis, from Dallas, in the monastery brewery. Brother Francis is the brewmeister. I tried to get this image out of my phone, without luck, until today. We talked about our mutual friend, Father Paul Weinberger. And I drank a goodly portion of his dark beer, which is astonishingly delicious. There’s nothing quite like drinking beer at table with the monks who brewed it. Here’s the King of Birra Nursia:

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This past weekend, the town held its winter gastronomic festival. Here’s what you buy in Norcia: cheese, cured meats, and truffles. Vendors came from around Italy to sell cheese, cured meats, and truffles from booths sprawled all over town. I got it together enough to go out and buy cheese to take home to Mrs. Dreher, who loves it more than just about anything else. I bought a ton of the stuff, seems like — various pecorinos (sheep’s milk cheese), and a couple of goat cheeses, as well as a wedge of parmigiano. Here was my favorite cheesemonger. He said he was once a philosopher, but decided he would be better off moving with his wife and kids to the mountains, and making cheese. Wise man!:


There was, of course, meat everywhere, but I bought none because it’s against the law to bring it back to the US. Still, check out this meat log; damn thing was nearly two feet in diameter:


On the piazza, Big Cheese was dancing around:

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I completed the last of my monastic interviews this morning, and really felt like I was robbing a bank or something. It is so inspiring to talk with men who have given their entire lives to prayer, and to learn from them. As I’ve said, I’m even more excited about this Benedict Option book than I was when I came. Talking to these monks is like staring into a well that is deep but so clear you can see to the bottom. I have an ever more certain idea of how the book is going to go than when I arrived, and for that, glory to God.

I said my daily prayer rule while the monks celebrated the old Catholic mass in the basilica, all of it in Gregorian chant, and utterly sublime. After lunch in the refectory, I left with Marco Sermarini and his friend Daniele. Marco is a founder of the Scuola libera G.K. Chesterton, a classical Catholic school in the seaside Adriatic city of San Benedetto del Tronto. Marco is hosting me tonight, and I’m interviewing him, his wife, and several of their friends for the book. As Daniele drove the winding narrow road out of the mountains and down to the sea, Marco told me the story of his group of Catholic friends, who came together in 1993 around their love of the faith and the Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. I don’t want to give the story away here — the Chesterton School is only one of the things they’ve done — but I can say that these folks are the living embodiment of the Benedict Option. They have built strong bonds with the Norcia monks. Indeed, you may recall that Father Cassian, the prior of the Norcia monastery, once told me that Christian families and communities that don’t come together as these people have are not going to make it through the times to come. I thought I would come to San Benedetto del Tronto to see what Father Cassian was talking about.

It’s funny how you know your tribe as soon as you meet them. Early in our car ride across the Apennines, Marco said that the motto of the Chesterton school is this great line of Chesterton’s: “A dead thing goes with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

And I thought: oh yeah, my people. Here they are. Marco Sermarini is not sitting around waiting for the world to end. He and his crew are doing what Flannery O’Connor advised: “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.” And, being Italian, they are so much fun!

We’re all going to dinner shortly, and plan to talk about Pope Benedict XVI and creative minorities. I wanted to get this blog post up before that, though, so you all didn’t think that I had been eaten by peegs.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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