Saint Benedict's Monastery in Subiaco
Saint Benedict and the Sacro Speco (Sacred Cave)
Our journey through the history of Saint Benedict’s Monastery begins with an anecdote and ends with a question.
We all know that, for Saint Benedict of Nursia, monastic life underpinned the whole of his religious experience: founder of the Benedictine Order and creator of the Rule of Benedict “Ora et Labora” (Pray and Work).
However, what is interesting to learn is that it all started right here, in Subiaco: the Monastery sits in exactly the place that Saint Benedict chose for his first experience as a hermit.
Three years lived as a recluse in a solitary cave of Monte Taleo, from the age of just 17!
And that same refuge (the “Sacro Speco”) is held contained today within the Monastery, embedded in the sheer rocky cliff over the Aniene valley.
It was the charm of the location and the Saint’s great personality that quickly led to the formation of a large community of disciples from all over the world.
Despite this, Saint Benedict did not want to build anything around his hermit cave: the cenobitic life of the community was organised by the Saint through the foundation of 12 monasteries, all under his spiritual guidance.
Of these Benedictine monasteries, only one remains today: Saint Scholastica’s Monastery, considered by many to be the oldest in the world.
It was only later that the monks decorated and converted into shrines the caves inhabited by Saint Benedict… and it was not until the year 1000 that the Sanctuary of the Sacro Speco was inhabited by other hermits.
The history of the monastery stretches over the centuries and provides us with the unique and precious work of art that we can visit today: a Monastery that has become one with the rocks on which it was built.
The Sanctuary that Francesco Petrarca described as the “Edge of Paradise“.
Let’s discover it together.
A short walk from Saint Benedict’s Monastery in Subiaco
An ancient oak woodland, a Sanctuary, two Churches.
And also shrines, caves and vaults set in the uneven rocky walls.
All this is Saint Benedict’s Monastery, a place whose atmosphere is hard to put into words.
It all began with a little entrance, framed with a thirteenth century mosaic cross.
This leads to the Chiesa Superiore (Upper Church), completely covered with Siena school frescos depicting the life of Jesus and Umbria-Marches school frescos of scenes of the life of Saint Benedict.
A flight of stairs leads to the Lower Church, with its walls full of paintings of Roman land, the Grotta Santa (Sacred Cave) and the fresco depicting Saint Francis of Assisi without his halo, and the oldest painting in the monastery: the Madonna with Child from the 700s, hidden away in the Grotta dei Pastori (Shepherd’s Cave), in which Saint Benedict held lessons on doctrines.
One last flight of stairs takes us to the Sacro Speco, with the statue of Saint Benedict and the naked rock to encourage reflection and prayer.
The outside of the Monastery is just as interesting: the small monks’ cemetery and Saint Benedict’s rose garden. Story has it that it was onto the thorns of these roses that Saint Benedict threw himself in order avoid succumbing to temptation.
As you can understand, only by visiting in person will you experience the emotions of such a location.. but, in the meantime, have a browse through the pages devoted to Saint Benedict’s Monastery on the Comune di Subiaco website, where you can find beautiful photos and can even take a virtual tour!
If we have successfully got you interested in coming to Subiaco, Saint Benedictine’s Monastery is open every day from 9 to 12.15am and from 3.30 to 6.15pm. For more information, find us on our website for Benedictine Monasteries in Subiaco.
At the Green Park Madama Hotel, we are always delighted to help you organise your visit!
And now for the same question that you can read inscribed in the marble above the entrance to the Sacro Speco:
“…If you are looking for light, Benedict, why choose a dark cave?”
The Saint’s reply?
“The cave doesn’t offer the desired light.
But in the darkness you look for a bright light: because only in the depth of night do the stars shine”.