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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. [1] 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.  [2]

How I wish The Benedict Option [3] 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. [4]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?”

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "Norcia In Agony"

#1 Comment By James C. On October 28, 2016 @ 3:45 am

Last week a Christian village in the Nineveh plain in Iraq was finally liberated from Islamic State. The village priest returned home to his ruined church. The journalist asked him, “Will you rebuild?” He responded, “Of course! We will. We will make it well.”


St Benedict and St Francis, both master rebuilders, are both Umbrians. Norcia has a future as God wills and as His servants seek it.

#2 Comment By David J. White On October 28, 2016 @ 7:43 am

I didn’t realize you were going to be in Waco for a conference! Shoot! I’m on my way to Atlanta for a conference of my own.

#3 Comment By CatherineNY On October 28, 2016 @ 7:54 am

So terribly sad. One very small consolation is that we live in the age of photography, and there are no doubt careful photographic records of the art that was lost. Another greater consolation is that the churches and monastery were destroyed by Nature, not by war, as was Monte Cassino.

#4 Comment By Jonathan On October 28, 2016 @ 8:35 am

What is God’s will in all of this? — I don’t think that’s the right question, exactly. You cannot hold onto the past indefinitely. Sooner or later, nature being what it is, everything comes crashing down. Always has done, always will. In the mind of God, so to speak, no beauty or goodness is ever lost. But for us down here on earth, eventually, one way or another, everything is lost. Therefore lay up your treasure in heaven.

#5 Comment By Tari On October 28, 2016 @ 10:37 am

I am so saddened to be losing such beautiful ancient artifices, both in Italy and in the Middle East. However, it has become apparent to me that just as our societies which have been built on our ancient Christian faith are now crumbling, possibly it is fit that the ancient beginnings pass as well. Maybe it is God showing us that just like the frescos and buildings have began to fade and be destroyed, our (superficial) faith too has began to crumble and implode under the strains of complacency, apathy, and idolatry. When the monks rebuild, it will be symbolic of the rebuilding of a renewed faith. A strong faith. A faith ready to withstand more centuries of testing. I believe that God sometimes shows us the reality of our situation in His eyes by events. Those who have eyes, let them see. Just a thought.

#6 Comment By Michael M On October 28, 2016 @ 10:44 am

His will is that it be renewed. A clergyman I was listening to the other night said he spoke with a young man who said, “I believe in everything the Church teaches, but if I’m honest with myself, I do not live as if Christ were Resurrected.” We all face that struggle, and we have to face it anew every day – being mindful that God acts with us to renew, and to engage in His work. Not (just) in preservation, but afresh.

Can’t wait for the Benedict Option book…

#7 Comment By Freedom On October 28, 2016 @ 11:11 am

It is tragic and the cultural loss is great, but as to where is God’s will? It is that new life and a new creation come out of the death of the old. The things that are lost are of this world. Everything here (especially humans and things of human creation) is temporary and ephemeral, but it is God that is eternal. And although the things of this world perish, the Gospel is that new life will rise out of the ashes. The churches of Asia Minor are long gone, but how many were and are saved by the message that went out to and from those churches? The message to and from those long gone churches led to building the great cathedrals and monasteries of Europe. After those cathedrals and monasteries are gone, the message that went from those cathedrals and monasteries will continue to save. It is hubris to think that anything we build, even (especially?) sacred things, is permanent or eternal.

#8 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 28, 2016 @ 2:42 pm

If there is any will of God in all of this, it is perhaps something along the lines of, if you humans insist on building big bulky structures, expecting them to last forever, things will happen to them now and then. Learn to be more modest in your construction, or to work with all the ways in which things move on this planet. A little elasticity goes a long way in avoiding the pressure to simply go with the flow.

But those who built these places did what they could, with what they knew at the time. If we really want to preserve them, well, it can be done, but it is expensive.

A lot of major bridges across the Mississippi and its tributaries are going to collapse one of these days, but until they do, nobody think its worth spending money to retrofit. The New Madrid fault is overdue.

#9 Comment By Anonne On October 28, 2016 @ 3:31 pm

This is so sad. There are no words, really, but we have to trust God for his wisdom and mercy.

#10 Comment By sigaliris On October 28, 2016 @ 6:49 pm

I’m sorry for the loss of physical and spiritual homes, and those lovely frescoes. Perhaps poetry will provide a modicum of consolation to the onlookers:

Cities and Thrones and Powers

Cities and Thrones and Powers
Stand in Time’s eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die:
But, as new buds put forth
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth
The Cities rise again.

This season’s Daffodil,
She never hears
What change, what chance, what chill,
Cut down last year’s;
But with bold countenance,
And knowledge small,
Esteems her seven days’ continuance,
To be perpetual.

So Time that is o’er-kind
To all that be,
Ordains us e’en as blind,
As bold as she:
That in our very death,
And burial sure,
Shadow to shadow, well persuaded, saith,
“See how our works endure!”

–Rudyard Kipling

#11 Comment By Stu On October 28, 2016 @ 8:28 pm

I see the address in Houston to send money, but do you know if there is also a Paypal account or something along those lines? I’m reluctant to send even a money order by snail mail.

#12 Comment By Charles Cosimano On October 28, 2016 @ 9:39 pm

And remember, when all the temples and churches are dust, the footprints of man on the moon will remain. When Benedict and Norcia are long forgotten, our monument will still be there, looking down upon the Earth.

#13 Comment By Eric V Hutchins On October 29, 2016 @ 1:38 am

Necessary cannot not be. Contingent being is radically mutable. There was a time when you and all your works were not. Time there will be when you are no more; few of your works will long endure. It is paradoxical that works on paper are more enduring than works in stone. That may be because The Word is partial to paper, because we for so long needed it for keeping and transmitting the word. The loss of those frescoes, while sad, may serve to instruct. The building is not the church. This, too, is the day that the Lord has made.

#14 Comment By Eric V Hutchins On October 29, 2016 @ 1:45 am

Necessary being cannot not be. Contingent being is radically mutable. There was a time when you and all your works were not. Time there will be when you are no more; few of your works will long endure. It is paradoxical that works on paper are more enduring than works in stone. That may be because The Word is partial to paper, because we for so long needed it for keeping and transmitting the word. The loss of those frescoes, while sad, may serve to instruct. The building is not the church. This, too, is the day that the Lord has made.

#15 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On October 29, 2016 @ 3:14 am

Well, I think we may as well thank God that lives haven’t been lost this time.
Everything is contingent, down here (also man’s footprints on the moon could be crushed tomorrow by a meteorite, Uncle Chuckie).
However, in Italy we have a long tradition of restoring things ‘as they were, where they were’, even though it may take decades.

#16 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On October 29, 2016 @ 6:59 am

My condolences to anyone who was injured or suffered property damage from the earthquake.

For me this was the inevitable outcome of indifferent mechanistic proceses devoid of any meaning. But I agree that an earthquake damaging a monetary raises questions about the problem of evil for the faithful.

tl;dr The sun rises on both the evil and the good, and the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

#17 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On October 30, 2016 @ 9:23 am

Apparently this was a foreshocks because Norcia was hit by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake this morning. I imagine it has compounded any damage that occurred up to this point.

#18 Comment By Olivier On October 30, 2016 @ 1:55 pm

No, not even our footprints on the moon will endure. A constant bombardment by micro-meteoroids (remember that the moon has no atmosphere) means that they, too, as well as all the object we left there, will disappear over the fullness time.