- Food & Wines
- Real Estate
- Learn Italian
- Home & Garden
- Sign in
History of the Abbey of Monte Cassino
It is really a delight to visit the Abbey of Monte Cassino to admire some of its beautiful architecture splendor and remember its history. The Abbey was founded by St. Benedict and built over the site of the Apollo pagan temple where the sculpture of Apollo was destroyed along with the altar. Due to its significant location, this place has always been a target of historical attacks and different wars including the costliest Battle of Monte Cassino fought during the Second World War.
About the Abbey of Monte Cassino
St. Benedict founded the Abbey of Monte Cassino in 529 A.D and destroyed the existing structure of Apollo to establish the Benedictine rule and dedicated the place to John the Baptist. After his death in 543, this place became a strategic site for all kinds of invasions that led to its destruction on several occasions. It was attacked by the Lombards during 584 where the ruling abbey was removed and escaped along with the monks to Rome where they remained for about a century. At this time, the body of St. Benedict was shifted to France and soon after that there was a period of prosperity with the reestablishment of Monte Cassino by some of the great monks of those times. By 744, Gisulf II, duke of Benevento donated a land to the Abbey of Monte Cassino to create a secular territory.
As a result of this development, the Abbey was turned into the capital of the State that included some of the core regions among the Lombard principality of Benevento along with the other Byzantine states along the coast. During 883, it was attacked by the Arabs who destroyed the structure by burning it completely. In this period, the Benedictine bishop of Monte Cassino was slain in this invasion. There were lot of renowned monks who came in this period during the 9th century and notable among them is Erchempert who preached the fundamental principles. Again, the Abbey was reconstructed and it rose to fame during the 11th century with the abbacy of Desiderius. The large number of works were produced at this time, which included manuscripts that became quite popular. At the same time, the Abbey was recreated on a larger scale by bringing artists from various regions to improve its beauty and splendour. Greek artists were hired to decorate different parts of the Abbey but unfortunately, all this was destroyed in the later centuries.
In the year 1349, the Abbey was ruined due to an earthquake that struck the region and it was rebuilt all over again. The Abbey of Monte Cassino was turned into a cathedral and later on, it was combined with the St. Justina of Padua. In the year 1799, this historical site was invaded by the Napoleon troops and as the disintegration of monasteries, Monte Cassino came to be regarded as the national monument. However, the major destruction to this monument was caused during the Battle of Monte Cassino on February 15th, 1944 during the Second World War.
The entire structure was destroyed during a series of air raids and bomb attacks and was completely rebuilt after the war got over and was consecrated again in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.
The Battle of Monte Cassino
This battle proved to be the most expensive series of all the four battles that took place during the Second Word War. The significant location of this place made it a target of a series of invasions and attacks and the battle of Monte Cassino was fought by the Allies for breaking the German military fortifications along Italy and capture Rome. The western half of the Gustav Line was held by the Germans and the hilltop of the Abbey of Monte Cassino was not occupied by them. However, they held strategic positions along the steep slopes just below the walls of the abbey. On 15th February, the Abbey of Monte Cassino was completely destroyed due to American bombings. After three unsuccessful attempts from January 17th-25th, February 15th-Febuary 18th and March 18th -March 25th, the defense forces from US, India, New Zealand and UK lost about 54,000 lives of men. Despite, these attempts, they failed to capture the city.
Thus, a fourth battle took place, which was fought under the leadership of General Wladyslaw Anders by the 2nd Polish Corps. With the first assault, there was a great loss that enabled the British 8th Army to shatter the German lines across the Liri River. The second assault carried out by the Polish troops proved to be immensely expensive using the Moroccan local tribesmen for assistance in mountain warfare. The German 1st Parachute Division was ousted from its position and was captured by the forces. Thus, the Podolian Ulans Regiment captured the ruins on May 18th known to be a Polish group.
In this way, the seizure of Monte Cassino enabled the British and the American groups to proceed towards Rome which came down in 1944 prior to Normandy invasion. Though the Abbey of Monte Cassino was fully destroyed in the process of these battles, luckily all the precious historical treasures was shifted to Rome. This historical site has been rebuilt over and over again but the original structures are all ruined completely.
Visiting The Abbey of Monte Cassino
The invasion of Monte Cassino led to the loss of around 54,000 allied with 20,000 Germans lives. Today you can see some of these cemeteries in honor of these men around Monte Cassino. If you are visiting Monte Cassino, make sure to see the Museum to find a vast collection of the magnificent artifacts and artistic splendor of this place. However, just check out the timings as usually this museum remains closed during the winter months, though it may be opened during Sundays for visitors.
The entrance to the Abbey of Monte Cassino comprises three bronze doors with various inscriptions depicting the possessions the Church that relied on Montecassino in the earlier centuries.There are plenty of interesting things to see inside the monastery such as the statue of St. Scolastica, which was recreated after World War II. There are lovely paintings inside the Abbey, such as "The Glory of St. Benedict", which depicts St. Benedict surrounded by bishops, monks and nuns. The Bramante cloister cloister measures 40 metres in length and around 30 metres in width, an octagonal well supported by Corinthian columns adorns the center.
The Baroque style pipe organ by Neapolitan Mascioni di Cuvio comprises of over 5000 pipes and has three keyboards. There are also stunning views in the cathedral representing stories of the oath taken by the monks at the base of the dome. There is also a secret underground church built in 1544, where you can find different chambers with mosaic tile works. Here you can find mosaic depictions of the Madonna and child with golden tiles and a beautiful marble structure of St. Benedict.
When you are visiting Monte Cassino, you can catch some wonderful panoramic views of the valley from the top of the abbey and see the Polish Cemetery. However, make sure to visit the Abbey before lunchtime as they have fixed timings. The Abbey of Monte Cassino is a place, which you are sure to admire due to its artistic splendor and its rich historical significance.