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The MonteCassino Monastery was founded by St. Benedict about 529 of the Christian Era on the remnants of a preexisting Roman fortification of the municipium Casinum. The heathen cult was still practised on this mountain site in the temple of Apollo and in a nearby holy grove to which a sacrifice area was adjoining. MonteCassino became famous for the prodigious life and the Sepulchre of its Founder. Through the ages, the abbey was looked upon as a place of holiness, culture and art for which it became renowned on world-wide level.
Around 577, the monastery was destroyed by the Longobards of Zotone, Duke of Beneventum, but early in the eighth century Pope Gregory II commissioned the Brescian Petronace to rebuild the monastery. For the Cassinese abbey this was the beginning of a period of great splendour: the Saxon Monk Villibald, the Monk Sturmius disciple of S. Boniface, Founder of Fulda and of German monasticism, Gisulf II Duke of Beneventum, Carlomanno brother of Pippin, Ratchis king of the Longobards, Anselm future abbot of Nonantola all flocked to MonteCassino. In 787 Charlemagne came to visit the Abbey and granted it vast privileges.
In 883, the Saracens invaded and sacked the Monastery and burnt it down, causing the death of Bertarius its saint Abbot, Founder of mediaeval Cassino. The surviving monks first fled to Teano and later to Capua. Monastic life was only fully resumed towards the middle of the tenth century, thanks to Abbot Aligerno.
Various great Abbots governed MonteCassino in the eleventh century, such as Theobald, Richerius, Frederick of Lorraine who later will become Pope under the name of Stephen IX. They restored MonteCassino to its former political and ecclesiastic height, culminating under Abbot Desiderius, a truly outstanding personality.
He was a friend to Pope Gregory VII whom he assisted in his struggle for independence of the Church, later to become his successor under the name Victor III. The Basilica was rebuilt under his abbotship and the monastery was enriched with numerous beautifully miniated manuscripts, mosaics, enamels, oriented liturgic goldsmithery.
The third destruction, caused by an earthquake, occurred in 1349. Nothing but a few walls remained of Abbot Desiderius' splendid building.
Many additions and embellishments were made during reconstruction so that the abbey acquired the greatness and imposingness it conserved until February 15, 1944, during the final stage of world war II when MonteCassino happened to be on the firing line between two armies: this place of prayer and study which had become in these exceptional circumstances a peaceful shelter for hundreds of defenceless civilians, in only three hours was reduced to a heap of debris under which many of the refuges met their death. The Abbey was rebuilt according to the ancient architectural pattern and to the "where and as was" program of Abbot Ildefonso Rea, its reconstructor.
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