Montecassino (also spelled Monte Cassino), a small town about 80 miles south of Rome, is the home of the sacred relics and monastery of St. Benedict (480-543), the patron saint of Europe and the founder of western monasticism.
Since its founding by St. Benedict in 529 AD, Montecassino Monastery has had a troubled history, suffering from repeated attacks, pillage, and natural disasters. Most recently, it was the site of a terrible battle during World War II that resulted in great loss of life and complete destruction of the monastic buildings.
Despite its significant and frequent setbacks, the monastery has always been rebuilt and the relics of Saints Benedict and Scholastica have survived through all the turmoil. The building that stands today was constructed after 1944 using the old plans.
History of Montecassino Abbey
St. Benedict was born to a noble family in Nursia, a small town near Spoleto, around 480 AD. He did not set out to be a great monastic leader, wishing instead to live a quiet and contemplative life as a hermit.
As a young man, Benedict established himself in a small cave 50 miles from Rome in Subiaco. His plans for solitude were not to be, however. Disciples were soon attracted to him, and he became well known for his pious character, wise teachings and ability to work miracles.
Benedict moved to Montecassino in 528, where he remained the rest of his life. Here he wrote his Rule, a set of guidelines for laymen wishing to live a spiritual life pleasing to God. The Rule of St. Benedict would become the pattern for monastic rules across medieval Europe.
Upon his death in 543, he was buried in a tomb with his sister, St. Scholastica. The monastery was sacked by the Lombards not long after Benedict's death, but it was soon rebuilt. By the 11th century, Montecassino had become the wealthiest monastery in the world.
In World War II, the hill of Monte Cassino was part of a German defensive line guarding the approaches to Rome. Montecassino became the target of assault after assault by Allied troops, and was finally destroyed by air bombardment. The hill was captured at dreadful loss of life by the Polish Army and Italian refugees. After the war, the abbey was rebuilt based on the original plans.
Today, Montecassino is a working monastery and continues to be a pilgrimage site by virtue of the suriviving relics of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. It is also a popular tourist destination for its historical importance and its attractive buildings.
What to See at Montecassino Abbey
Rebuilt in the 1940s, Montecassino Abbey sits atop a large hill, below which lies the city of Cassino. A vast Polish war cemetery covers a hillside across the valley, which can be easily seen from the abbey.
The basilica, richly decorated in stucco and mosaics, enshrines the relics of St. Benedict and his sister, St. Scholastica, which survived the bombings.
The abbey museum displays medieval art and artifacts from the monastery and explains the history of monasticism. The monastic church, the main destination for pilgrims, features an urn under the high altar containing the relics of Benedict and Scholastica.
Quick Facts on Montecassino Abbey
|Names:||Abbazia di Montecassino · Monte Cassino · Montecassino Abbey · Montecassino Monastery|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||41.490626° N, 13.813999° E|
|Address:||Monte Cassino, Italy|
|Hours:||Abbey: daily 8:30am-12:30pm, 3:30-5:30pm (6:30pm in summer)|
Museum: Same hours except in winter, when open only on Sundays
|Lodging:||View hotels near Montecassino Abbey|
- Encyclopedia of Sacred Places
- Catholic Encyclopedia
- Abbazia di Montecassino – official website (Italian or English; Flash or html)
- Abbey of Monte Cassino - Catholic Encyclopedia (1911)
- The Abbazia di Montecassino - Paradoxplace
Map of Montecassino Abbey, Monte Cassino
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