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Norcia In Agony

I have been on the road all day from Baton Rouge to Waco, where, at an academic conference, I will be giving a presentation on the Benedict Option. As you have no doubt heard by now, there were more earthquakes in Italy. The Benedictine monks in Norcia report that their basilica and monastery have been hard hit. Excerpts:

Over the past 24 hours, a powerful series of earthquakes passed through Norcia, once again graciously sparing the lives of the monks and inhabitants to Norcia. Unfortunately, however, it has brought many of the townspeople to the brink of despair and more damage than any of us can yet assess. As before, we are busy at work trying to respond to the crisis on multiple levels. Therefore, my time is short to update all of you, even though you each have found so much time to support us through your prayers and donations.

The Basilica fared the worst. Entire walls of decorative plaster crashed to the floor and the dome has begun to cave in. The roof collapsed in two places, leaving the ancient Basilica exposed to all the elements. Most dramatically, perhaps, the Celtic Cross which adorned the 13th century facade came crashing down.

Here is what that façade looked like, from a photo I took in February there:


More from the report by Father Benedict, the subprior:

The 50% of the monastery which had been considered “habitable” after the August quakes has now been damaged far beyond what one might call safe livable conditions. At 10:30 PM last night, 5 of the town monks escaped to San Benedetto in Monte to join the 8 of us already here, where, after a common sip of Birra Nursia Extra, we camped out for a night of turbulence. After a few scant moments of sleep, we rose at 3:30 AM for Matins and started to accept once more that our life is not our own and God had altered our path once again, solidifying it here on the mountain top. Sadly, for the foreseeable future, this means it will no longer be possible for us to offer Mass in the crypt of the Basilica for the public. But, if God wills it, we will soon offer Mass here on the mountain.

The basilica’s crypt contains the altar of Saints Benedict and Scholastica. It was part of the house in which they were born. I took this photo after praying there. I wonder if I will ever see it again:



In closing, and on a note of hope, I want to tell you about a special visitor we had this morning. In an act of both ecclesiastical solidarity and paternal support, and as the ground beneath us continued to tremble, Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon, became the first Bishop to offer Mass in the private chapel of our modest dwellings. The Bishop was in Norcia to participate in the fifth annual Populus Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage. Following the earthquake, the pilgrimage’s Norcia events were cancelled, and so the Bishop spent time with our community. He was able to join us for coffee and offered soothing words of support, which we in turn repeat and offer to all of those in the region affected by natural disaster:

“God will bring good to you out of this suffering and this earthquake will become the cornerstone on which generations of monks will build their monastic life.”

If you want to be part of the rebuilding — and I hope you do — click here. 

How I wish The Benedict Option was about to be published, so you could read in much greater detail about these monks’ life in common, and what a beacon of light and hope they are. God really is doing something wondrous there in Norcia. Our reader and faithful correspondent James C., who has spent time with the monks in Norcia, writes to say that the town is “in agony” now. The church of San Salvatore, just outside of the city’s walls, collapsed entirely. The core of the church has been there since the 12th century. Here is what it was. James sends this photos too:



These precious 15th century frescoes, all reduced to dust now. No one will ever see them again:




Writes James: “It breaks the heart. What is God’s will in all of this?”

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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