August 25, 2016, Thursday — Two Monks Remain…

“There is an incident in the anonymous Life of Ceolfrith which may refer to the young Bede. A plague swept through Ceolfrith’s monastery in 686, taking most of the monks who sang in the choir… Only the abbot and a young boy raised and educated by him remained…Ceolfrith decided that they should sing the Psalms without antiphons, except at Matins and Vespers.” Life of the Venerable Bede (673 to 735) (link). Almost everything we know of the history of the Church in England for the first century and a half (c. 600 to Bede’s death in c. 735) is known from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. If Bede had died in a plague which killed all the other monks at his monastery when he was about 13 years old in 686, we would know nothing of those years. Through such narrow passageways, through such haunting scenes as the aged abbot chanting and the 13-year-old boy responding in an otherwise vacant monastery in England in 686 A.D., the history of the Church comes down to us, and continues for those who will come after us… St. Bede became ill in 735. For about two weeks before Easter, he was weak and had trouble breathing, but experienced little pain. He remained cheerful and gave daily lessons to his students, then spent the rest of the day singing Psalms and giving thanks to God. He would often quote the words of St. Ambrose, “I have not lived in such a way that I am ashamed to live among you, and I do not fear to die, for God is gracious” (Paulinus, Life of Saint Ambrose, Ch. 45).

“Let us take things as we find them: let us not attempt to distort them into what they are not… We cannot make facts. All our wishing cannot change them. We must use them.”― Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” —G.K. Chesterton, January 14, 1911

“To the quick and simple organisation of society for ends which, being only material and worldly, must be as ephemeral as worldly success, there is only one alternative… It is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organisation which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality.” —T.S. Eliot, from Christianity and Culture, which contains Eliot’s “The Idea of a Christian Society,” an essay originating in a series of lectures given in 1939 at Cambridge University, on the eve of the Second World War

Ruin and Death in Central Italy

The earth shook yesterday morning at about 3:30 a.m. in central Italy. Entire villages, built mostly of stone, have crumbled, taking the lives (as of now) of some 250 people, and leaving many dozens more seriously injured — with more dead and injured likely to be discovered by rescuers still searching through the rubble.

Aftershocks are continuing. The Italian earthquake institute (INGV) reported 60 aftershocks in the four hours following the initial quake, which was measured at 6.2 on the Richter scale; the strongest aftershock measured 5.5.

The worst damage was in Pescara del Tronto, a hamlet near Arquata in the Marche region. Rescue workers said the town was virtually “razed” to the ground.

The quake’s epicenter was near Norcia, where there is a small monastery of Benedictine monks, our friends — we have visited them on numerous occasions with our pilgrims, and now we are concerned for their safety, and the safety of their neighbors.

But none of the monks of Norcia have been harmed, the monks have advised us in emails.

And no one in Norcia itself, so far as we know, has died or been seriously injured.

But entire villages near Norcia have crumbled, and the death toll has been heavy.

The quake was felt even in Rome — Pope Francis said publicly yesterday that he himself felt the earth move early yesterday morning, in the Domus Santa Marta, where he lives.

Pope Francis interrupted his Wednesday weekly audience in St Peter’s Square yesterday to express his shock at the news.

“To hear the mayor of Amatrice say his village no longer exists and knowing that there are children among the victims, is very upsetting for me,” Francis said.

The area in red on the map of Italy below is the region in question.

The red and white circle-dot in the middle is where Norcia is.


Amatrice “destroyed”

Here below is a picture from Amatrice, where the entire center of the town is in ruins.

Local photographer Emiliano Grillotti told the BBC “everything is rubble” in Amatrice.

“Amatrice is totally in ruins,” he said. “One of the most beautiful villages in the whole of Italy now doesn’t exist. Everything is rubble, only rubble.”

(This aerial view shows the damage in the town of Amatrice, central Italy. Picture: Italian Firefighters Vigili del Fuoco. Source: AP)


Amatrice resident Maria Gianni said her “whole ceiling fell but did not hit me.”

“I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn’t hit luckily, just slightly injured my leg,” she said.

Another woman, sitting in front of her destroyed home with a blanket over her shoulders, said she didn’t know what had come of her loved ones.

“It was one of the most beautiful towns of Italy and now there’s nothing left,” she said. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”

Amatrice was packed with visitors at the peak of the summer season when the quake struck, destroying the picturesque hilltop village’s main street.

The town is famous as a beauty spot and is a popular holiday destination for Romans seeking cool mountain air at the height of the summer.

Assisi and Perugia were harmed in a great quake in 1997, and Aquila in a quake in 2009.

This earthquake occurred 1,937 years to the day since Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. and destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum — one of the most catastrophic volcanic eruptions in European history.

Monks of Norcia to move to Rome for the time being

In order to be prudent, the monks of Norcia have decided to move from the time being from Norcia to Rome, where they will be hosted in the Monastery of Sant’Anselmo on the Aventine Hill.

They are leaving because the aftershocks continue to shake the region, and because there has been considerable damage already to the church where the monks pray the daily office.

Here is a picture of some of that damage, in the monastery church in Norcia. Most of which seems to be plaster covering the stone walls, and, fortunately, the roof itself seems to be solid and intact, but prudence dictates caution while the possible damage is assessed:

“After a careful study of the developing seismic situation in our region of Italy, as a precautionary measure, we have decided to transfer our community to Rome,” the Norcia monks write. “The monks of the international Benedictine headquarters at St. Anselmo in Rome have kindly offered our monks a place to remain during this period of uncertainty…

“While the community is in Rome, two monks will remain in Norcia to keep watch over the basilica and monitor the developing situation. They will avoid danger by sleeping in tents outside the city walls…”

And so two monks will remain in Norcia — outside the walls, in tents — during the coming days, to continue the life of the monastery, despite this tragic disaster.

In such a way, the life of the Church continues.

Despite tragedies, despite loss of life, despite the temptations of passing pleasures and the forgetfulness of many of the not-so-faithful, a faithful remnant always remains, and carries on.

They are witnesses.

The two monks in Norcia, in their tents, are witnesses.

If you would like to donate to support the Benedictine monastery of Norcia, please click here.

First and second email updates from the monks of Norcia

First Update:

We are OK. We are alive, and there are no serious injuries to report. Sadly, there are many injuries to report among the people of the region, especially those in small mountain villages. Please pray for them. We monks will do what we can to contribute here on the ground, but we’ll need your spiritual support in a special way during this period.

Second: We, as many others in Norcia and surrounding areas, suffered a lot of damage to our buildings and especially to our basilica. It will take some time to assess the extent of the damage, but it is very sad to see the many beautiful restorations we’ve made to St. Benedict’s birthplace reduced, in a moment, to disrepair.

Third: What can you do? Please, pray for us, for those who have lost their lives, who have lost someone they love, who have lost their homes and livelihoods. We will need your help, as always but now in a special way, to start the project of rebuilding. Please consider making a gift to help us get started.

The Monks of Norcia


Second update of the day by the monks of Norcia:

Dear Friends,

After a careful study of the developing seismic situation in our region of Italy, as a precautionary measure, we have decided to transfer our community to Rome.

The monks of the international Benedictine headquarters at St. Anselmo in Rome have kindly offered our monks a place to remain during this period of uncertainty. We would be grateful if you added the monks of St. Anselmo to your prayers for their generosity during our time of need.

While the community is in Rome, two monks will remain in Norcia to keep watch over the basilica and monitor the developing situation. They will avoid danger by sleeping in tents outside the city walls.

We strive to maintain the order of the Rule even during the most difficult of circumstances, and this transfer, while disruptive, will ensure the safety of our monks and grant us all the peace to continue to practice our monastic life.

Please continue to pray for our community, and consider giving a gift ( to help our effort to rebuild.

The Monks of Norcia

(to be continued)

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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