A Brief History of the Montecassino Abbey

For my parents’ last day in the Naples area we took a tour of Montecassino Abbey. We couldn’t let them leave without squeezing in some World War II history for Dad. This abbey was destroyed and rebuilt four times in its long history. St. Benedict of Nursia founded the abbey around the year 529. One of the most devastating events that it endured was the battle of Cassino on February 15, 1944, in a series of heavy Allied air raids. Montecassino Abbey was left in ruins, but was rebuilt according to the original plan following the war.

This site is about an hour and a half from where we picked up the bus, so our tour guide gave us a lot of information about the Abbey and the Cassino area. One tip that he mentioned was to make sure you pronounce both esses in the word Cassino. The word casino with one “s” means “brothel” so if you told locals that you went to casino then they might look at you a little strangely! We drove up a very steep mountain, since the abbey sits on the highest point in the area. High in the clouds, our twisting, turning road was reminiscent of our time in Capri and Amalfi.

There are 19 monks living at Montecassino Abbey at the present time. At one time, it was home to over 200 monks. It’s such a big establishment, that 19 is a very small number for such a large space.

The basilica, pictured below, is adorned in marble and gold. 

We were able to see fragments of tiles and walls, but for the most part, everything that was part of the reconstruction following 1944. We got an incredible opportunity to learn more about the religious history of the Montecassino Abbey, in the underground area. This area is usually not open to the public. Here, we saw the original walls, and we learned about one of St. Benedict’s miracles. When he fell onto a large rock, it softened and absorbed his fall. He left an imprint of his arm in the stone, giving it the name “the Miracle Stone.”

The lower level of the Bramante cloister holds an octagonal well, supported by columns. The balcony offers a beautiful view of Liri Valley. The garden displays a statue of St. Benedict, surrounded by monks.

The abbey houses many mosaics and stained glass. The bombings didn’t harm the mosaic on the left or the statue in the middle. 

All in all, this was a very informative and engaging day. We learned the rich history of the Montecassino Abbey, and we understood why so many people visit it.