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Destination: Monte Cassino

June 17, 2007

montecassinoview.jpg

And there, uplifted, like a passing cloud
That pauses on a mountain summit high,
Monte Cassino’s convent rears its proud
And venerable walls against the sky.

– From “Monte Cassino” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

* * *

From “The Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino” Anthony Parente, italiansrus.com:

Rising 1700 feet above sea level is the amazing and beautiful Abbey of Monte Cassino. The Abbey was founded in 529 by St. Benedict and it became home to the Roman Catholic order of Benedictines. Over the centuries the Abbey has endured many periods of success and hardship. In its existence the Abbey has been destroyed on four separate occasions. In the end it rose from the ashes to live and prosper again.

To many the Abbey was a beautiful and magnificent monastery. To others it was a giant fortress perfect for a military post. Fifty years after it was founded the Lombards overtook the monastery and used it as a defense against the Roman duchy. Needless to say the Abbey was destroyed by the Lombards. The Benedictines didn’t give up hope and nearly two centuries later it was rebuilt under the supervision of Petronax of Brescia.

Eight years after the death of Brescia the Saracen hordes overwhelmed the monastery and burned it to the ground. Once again the Benedictines where able to return to the mountain to rebuild the Abbey. After the Abbey was resurrected for a second time it enjoyed a period of great splendor until a massive earthquake destroyed it in 1349. Soon after the earthquake, construction immediately began. Once again the Abbey arose from the ashes and in 1866 it was proclaimed a national monument.

Like the Lombards in the 6th century the Germans used Monte Cassino as a military post during World War II. This fortress like monastery gave the allied forces much difficulty. With no success penetrating the monastery by land the allied forces turned to the air. On February 15, 1944 the Abbey was bombarded destroying the Germans stronghold on the area. After the war had ended the Italian government funded the reconstruction of the Abbey.

If it wasn’t for the dedication of the Benedictines and the spirit of its founder St. Benedict the Abbey would not have survived countless tragedies to remain one of the famous monasteries in the Christian world.

From “Before Death Conversion?” Andrew G. Bostom, American Thinker, September 25, 2006:

In 846 a fleet of Arab jihadists arrived at the mouth of the Tiber, made their way to Rome, sacked the city, and carried away from the basilica of St. Peter all of the gold and silver it contained. This was a typical Muslim jihad naval razzia. Earlier, by 827, the Arabs had conquered Sicily, which they kept under their suzerainty for two and a half centuries. Thus was Rome itself under serious threat from a nearby Muslim colony.

During the same ninth century when Rome was assaulted and Sicily was conquered, the Muslim armies occupied Bari and Brindisi in Italy, for thirty years; Taranto for forty; Benevento for ten; they attacked Naples, Capua, Calabria, and Sardinia several times; they put the abbey of Montecassino to fire and the sword; they even made razzias into northern Italy, arriving from Spain and crossing over the Alps.

In 847, the year after the aforementioned naval assault on Rome, the newly elected Pope Leo IV began the construction of walls around the entire perimeter of the Vatican, 12 meters high and equipped with 44 towers. He completed the project in six years. These are the ‘Leonine’ walls, and significant traces of them still remain. But precious few today understand that these walls were erected to defend the Holy See of Peter from an Islamic jihad. And many of those who do know this remain silent out of misplaced discretion. As Vatican reporter Sandro Magister has observed,

‘Bridges, not walls’ is the fashionable slogan today…

From “The Bombing of Monte Cassino” Time Archive, Feb. 28, 1944:

In the valley below Mt. Cassino an American artillery-battery commander spoke: “I don’t give a damn about the monastery. I have Catholic gunners in this battery and they’ve asked me for permission to fire on it, but I haven’t been able to give it to them. They don’t like it.”

The Germans were using the famed 1,400-year-old Benedictine abbey as an artillery-observation post. This seemed well established, as hundreds of young Americans died on the slope below. Collier’s War Correspondent Frank Gevasi reported: “I saw 800 [Americans] go out and 24 come back, because the Germans could see every move and turn their fire on them.” And the Germans, after noting heavy, bloody U.S. losses, laconically reported in a communiqué that Indian Gurkha troops had replaced “the worn-out Americans.”

The slaughter grew too great. After weeks of soul searching and delay, the Allies decided to bomb and to shell the abbey. They followed a Dec. 29, 1943 order of General Dwight Eisenhower: “We are fighting in a country . . . rich in monuments which illustrate the growth of the civilization which is ours. We are bound to respect those monuments so far as war allows. If we have to choose between destroying a famous building and sacrificing our own men, then our men’s lives count infinitely more, and the buildings must go.”

On a sunlit morning last week the buildings went.

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destruction of monte cassino – source

From The ruins of the Abbey at Monte Cassino, 1944 SMU Digital Library:

Monte Cassino tops any list of disgraces resulting from egocentric military leadership, planning and execution. Historians now agree that none of the bombing and fighting served any true military purpose. It was simply a contest between the leadership of the American, English and Polish forces to see whose men could take the hill. The senseless waste of human life sickened many of us who photographed it.

From “60th anniversary of Battle of Monte Cassino: Polish troops paved the way for the Allies to enter Rome” Spero News, May 19, 2004:

In multi-language greetings to the 15,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square for the Wednesday general audience, Pope John Paul had special words for his fellow Poles, reminding them that their presence today is linked to the 60th anniversary of the battle of Monte Cassino when Polish troops paved the way for the Allies to enter Rome, the first Axis capital to fall.

“This was an event that subsequent generations of Poles referred to with pride,” said the Pope. “It became the symbol of the most noble values of the Polish spirit, and above all of the courage and willingness to give one’s life for ‘your freedom and ours’. How great must have been the love for country in the hearts of the young people who, in a foreign land shed their blood in hope of its liberation.”

John Paul II said that “after the war we had to wait a long time for this hope to be achieved. Today however we can thank God for this great grace which is the freedom of the Polish people. This is both a gift and a duty for today’s generations.”

Monte Cassino was the birthplace of the Benedictine order founded in the sixth century. The abbey included a cathedral, a seminary, an observatory, a boys’ college, and a library.

Wrongly assuming that the Germans were using the Monte Cassino monastery for military purposes, the Allies dropped 600 tons of bombs on the abbey destroying the fortress. After the destruction, the Germans held the abbey ruins for three months before Polish forces stormed the complex and eliminated the Germans but suffered heavy losses.

* * *

St. Benedict, from Answers.com:

Benedict was born about 480 in Nursia, 70 miles from Rome, to a distinguished family. He was sent to Rome to pursue his studies, but the vice of the city and of his fellow students impelled Benedict and his nurse to flee to the country.

Dissatisfied in his studies with his nurse, young Benedict left her secretly and disappeared into the wilderness of the Sabine hills. There, in Subiaco, he lived as a hermit in a cave, receiving food from a neighboring monk who lowered bread to him over a cliff. Dressed in wild animal skins, Benedict fought the wars of the soul. Once when tempted by a vision of a woman, he threw himself into a brier patch to subdue his emotions.

“Benedict’s soul, like a field cleared of briers, soon yielded a rich harvest of virtues,” Gregory related. Others sought his guidance, and the monks of a neighboring monastery whose abbot had died prevailed upon Benedict to take his place. But the strict discipline and obedience demanded by the new abbot so angered the monks that they tried to poison him. Detecting the poison, Benedict “went back to the wilderness he loved, to live alone with himself in the presence of his heavenly Father.”

Isolation was not Benedict’s lot, however; soon other men gathered around him, and he organized 12 monasteries with 12 monks and an abbot in each. At regular intervals, under Benedict’s direction they all gathered in the chapel to chant psalms and pray silently.

About 529 Benedict moved his community to Monte Cassino, a hill 75 miles southeast of Rome. He and his monks demolished an old temple of Apollo on the summit, replacing it with a chapel dedicated to St. Martin, and began construction of monastery buildings.

It is impossible to reconstruct Benedict’s daily life at Monte Cassino; his chronicler was concerned only with relating the marvels – such as Benedict’s detection of an impostor whom Totila, King of the Ostrogoths, had sent to the monastery in his place, and Benedict’s prediction of the destruction of Monte Cassino, an event that actually took place in 589. The date generally given for Benedict’s death is March 21, 547. He was buried at Monte Cassino next to his sister, St. Scholastica.

See also:
Official Site: Abbey of Montecassino
Sandy-Travels: Pictures of Monte Cassino
Rev. Anthony Esposito: Bombing of Montecassino

montecassinointerior.jpg
Interior Monte Cassino church – source

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From → Destinations

One Comment
  1. Robert William Mosimann permalink

    This article states that Monte Cassino Abbey was being used as an observation post for the Germans prior to
    the American destruction of the Abbey.

    This is false, the Germans did not occupy the site until it was needlessly destroyed by the Americans in a great crime against humanity by destroying this great site and library.

    There were strict German orders to not come within a range of the site (I believe 100-200 meters).

    It was acknowledged by at least one Allied military source that the Germans were not present nor defending from
    within the site before it was destroyed.

    The Allies chose to destroy it nonetheless, simply for the moral effect this would have on their troops of not having
    to face an apparently intact defensive structure before them.

    Part of the library was successfully evacuated beforehand by the efforts of the Benedictines and Germans to save
    as much of this great and precious cultural heritage as possible.

    Once the site was destroyed by the ignorance of the Americans, however, the site became an excellent fortification
    from which to defend from. The Allies paid in full the price for their crime by providing the Germans with an
    improved and almost ideal defensive position; the rubble now providing them with an extremely effective
    fortification.

    It is very regrettable that even today this War Crime and ignorant disregard for the great cultural destruction of the
    Monte Cassino site by the Americans is still largely ignored and that no World Court judgment against American
    criminal behaviour and ignorance has yet occurred.

    Robert William Mosimann

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