Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Friday in Italy--Monte Cassino

I'll admit that Friday's adventure was going to be for Bob.  Bob is a military historian, and he really wanted to go to Monte Cassino, a major battle site during WWII where the Allies took heavy costs trying to assault the Germans who were dug into the mountainside (that's a simplification, and it might even be wrong.  If Bob wants a historic exposé  here, he'll have to write it himself).

Anyway, it's part of the trade off for being married.  He has spent his fair share of time in knitting shops and wool festivals, and I in return have gone to scale model conventions and have scrambled over military ruins.  So I figured that today I would make encouraging grunts as he spotted chunks of concrete, and generally just admire the view.

I was so wrong.

The monastery at Monte Cassino had been destroyed during the battle, but has since been rebuilt.  What I didn't know what that it is still a working Benedictine abbey, and has been restored to full glory.  (Note:  some of the pictures have been lifted off the web.  Alas, we didn't get the aerial shot ourselves).

The ride up there was an adventure on it's own.  Amanda, as usual, had the steering wheel in one hand and the GPS in the other, and ignoring signs that pointed to paved roads and read "Monastery" we went up twisty little narrow roads.  I've lived in Florida for so long that I really love getting up a mountainside.  You can look out and see how much Naples sprawls.

Then our jaws properly dropped when we saw the abbey itself.

Here are some web pictures to get an idea of the size of it.

This has been a sacred site for a loooong time.  St. Benedict established the original abbey around 529 AD but even then had to take over a pagan temple.
Before going in, I had to take a family shot.  I've been writing about Amanda, Robert, Dane, and Zeke but haven't shown our host family who were kind enough to drive on all of these adventures this week.
Then we went inside.  The word "awesome"  is so overused as to be meaningless.  The word "awful" used to be "full of awe" but now has a negative connotation.  So I will simply say that we were filled with awe.  I did not take pictures--because this was a sacred place and not merely a tourist attraction.  But I'm not against lifting some from the web.

This is where we felt the sensation of our minds being blown, the moment when fantasy become reality.  See the altar in the picture above?  Behind it is a tomb.  The tomb of St. Benedict.  The remains of a mortal man of immortal memory.  I had known that Monte Cassino was a Benedictine abbey, but not that it was *the* Benedictine abbey.  The original.
This was the ceiling, 2-3 stories over our heads.

And the dome.
Downstairs the artwork was more Byzantine.  I heard Bob explaining to Dane that each curve, each line, each gesture had meaning.  We just don't know what the meanings are (we need a good art historian).

(I did whip out the camera for this shot.  C'mon--it's a peacock!)
There was a very good museum attached to the church--Bob, Dane and I explored it while Robert and Amanda kept Zeke entertained outside.  There were several hundred years of accoutrements of the church--croziers and miters and copes, prayer books, bibles, holy water vessels, chalices, reliquaries.
This crèche is from the 1700's

Bob particularly like this tiny book, with it's own magnifyer

A beautiful chased silver and velvet book binding

And, another pop! as more brain cells exploded.  This is an original Botticelli (1445-1510).  In a small room, with no rope in front, no guards, no security camera.  We just sat down and stared at it for awhile.  I think Dane was confused . . .

And to go from the sublime to the not-so-sublime--doesn't this look like a potty chair?  It had the label "Parto" so I looked it up--it's a birthing chair!  An elegant way to come into the world, but did the midwife have to lay under it to catch the baby?
And thus ended another day of adventures and wonders.

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