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The Monastery Is One Of The Most Iconic In Italy (And It's More Impressive In Person)

By Aaron Spray 14-18 minutes 11/7/2021

Italy's most famous monastery can be toured in a number of ways, and it's worth it just to experience its long and intricate history.

Monte Cassino is famous for its magnificent Benedictine Order abbey located in southern Italy. It is also renowned for being the site of a major battle during World War Two between the American forces and the defending Germans. In the battle, Monte Cassino was needlessly destroyed.

Today it is one of the most iconic monasteries in Italy. It is one of the oldest and has had one of the most troubled histories, having been sacked or destroyed by Lombards, Arabs, the French, and the Americans (and other Allied forces) through its long history. While in Europe, if one goes to Austria, visit the Admont Abbey - it boasts the largest Monastery Library in the world and is one of the most beautiful.

The Long Troubled History Of Monte Cassino

The first monastery on Monte Cassino was established early on - around 529 AD during the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy. It was later sacked by the invading Lombards at around 570. A second monastery was established at around 718 at the suggestion of Pope Gregory II.

But in 883 it too was sacked and abandoned (this time by the Arabic Saracens). It was rebuilt again around 949 and in the 11th and 12th centuries the abbey enjoyed its golden age. In 1799 it was sacked yet against this time by the French. It was then dissolved by the freshly united Italian government in 1866 and it became a national monument with the monks being the custodians of its treasures.

Battle of Monte Cassino

During the Italian Campain in World War Two, the Germans noted the abbey would make an excellent observation post. But out of deference to the abbey's historical significance, the German command ordered German units not to include it in their defense. They then informed the Vatican and the Allies they would not be using the abbey.

However, some Allied reconnaissance flights stated they saw Germans in the abbey. Regardless if there were Germans there or not, the Allies then decided to drop 1,150 tons of high explosives and incendiary bombs on the abbey (including 142 B-17 Flying Fortresses). The entire abbey was completely reduced to rubble.

The whole Battle of Monte Cassino was one of the largest battles of the Italian Campaign.

Before the battle, there were some 1,400 irreplaceable manuscript codices (mostly patristic and historical) in the abbey. These had been sent there to the abbey archives for safekeeping. Fortunately, at the beginning of the destructive battle, German officers transferred them to the Vatican sparing 1,400 manuscripts being hit by 1,150 tons of bombs.

Luigi Maglione - the Cardinal Secretary of States stated to the senior US diplomat to the Vatican, that the bombing was "a colossal blunder … a piece of a gross stupidity".

After the battle, there was nothing left of the abbey apart from the rubble. But it was rebuilt after the war. The abbey states on its website:

"Within the centuries the Abbey has met magnificence and destruction many times, and has always come out of its ruins stronger."

Visiting Monte Cassino

Today the abbey of Monte Cassino is open to the public and is an impressive sight in Southern Italy. One can see the monk's way of life and learn about the abbey's impressive history.

Guided tours of the abbey can be booked on the abbey's official website (the website is also in English). Guided tours are for both groups and individuals and are available in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Guided Tours (Old Area and Museum Included):

Note: One Can Also Stay At The Abbey As There Is Accommodation for Visitors. One Must Email Them For More Information

The Museum of the Abbey

The Museum of the Abbey shows visitors the Monastery's history and art. The works at the museum are archeological, artistic, historical, and religious. The exhibits span history from the 6th century BC to today.

In the Medieval section, one can see fragments of the ancient Abbey that was destroyed throughout the centuries. There are examples of manuscripts that are stored in the abbatial archives as well as paintings, silverware, and vestments. There's also a section of the abbey's destruction in World War II at the hands of the Americans.

If one can't visit Europe, then one of the most impressive Cathedrals in all of the Americas is the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City.

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About The Author

Aaron Spray (472 Articles Published)

Aaron is a first-hand traveler who has visited more than 70 countries around the world. He is passionate about traveling and opening up the world for other intrepid explorers.

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