In prechristian time, the Monte Cassino was a place of a heathen sanctuary between Rome and Naples. Although two hundred years later since the first Roman emperor Konstantin converted to the Christianity, a heathen deity still stood on the mountain when Benedict chose this place for a new beginning. As documented the Benedictine life on the Monte Cassino started in 529. It this year, the platonic academy in Athens - the University of the Antiquity - closed its gates. “When the holy man moved away, he indeed changed the residence, but not the enemy ”, said pope Gregor in a headline before he started to narrate what the god's man experienced on his way to his last life station. Since the beginning it is a fight against the evil. And the more Benedict fought, he became a man of prayer, a god's man and a blessed man. He relied on god's help, when other ones trusted in their own strengths. He blessed humans, when others complained. First, the abbot of Monte Cassino tore down the old places of worship, erected two oratorios, which he dedicated one to John the Baptist and one to St. Martin Bishop of Tours. With this he had not come to the end completely. Therefore he began to preach to the people in the surroundings about Christ. What has already started in Subiaco, Benedict continued in Monte Cassino. Exemplary for the proselytization in a fertile connection between word and action he stands for his sons and daughters over centuries. Such action of the holy Benedict induced the opponent to renewed attacks, “which the enemy started with its own motivation, but otherwise gave Benedict the opportunity to victories”.
Difficulties appeared during the construction of the Abbey. The attempt to move a boulder away, hindered the construction. Benedict found a solution, through which the huge stone could be removed out of the way. The monks with the pride of builders in their hearts, established walls, which broke down numerously and buried one young brother. Benedict turned praying to God to heal the under the debris buried boy and to get the chance to send him back to the working brothers. Deceived from the evil enemy, the brothers saw a conflagration where only some sparks sprayed. Then Benedict opened the eyes of his sons and freed them from that fearful nervousness, which made forgotten that it was god, who built the house.
After finishing the outer construction with God's help despite many resistances and while Benedict engaged to strengthen his growing community, the evil transferred its attacks on the monks and donated bewilderment whereas it seemed to be possible. The eye of the monk father recognized where danger could threaten and rebuked the ones of his community, where the vice took its start.
As much as Benedict first cared for his brothers, he also knew about his responsibility for the people, who lived in the surroundings of the Abbey. Among them he cared for the communities of women and induced, “that brothers went to them regularly for comfort and edification”. Similarly, Benedict helped many people in spiritually or material need. In time of starves and harvest bathes, he knew how to help by clever economy. He understood to divide grains and oil, so that nobody had to starve, but also nobody lived in abundance. Again and again he preached to those, who didn't know Christ. He comforted those, who lamented the death of a dear human being. And he healed if human medical art denied and only the strength of the prayer could help. In that fear, that is the start of the wisdom, he even did not shrink away from the huge king Totila: without inhibitions he accused his atrocities and predicted his ultimate.
Altogether in the part of his Benedictine vita about the years in Monte Cassino St. Gregory VII draws the picture of an abbot as an author would imagine him. He is the loyal providing shepherd of his entrusted herds, the wise teacher, who showed “everything good and holy more by actions than by words”. He was the benign father, who practiced “mercy before right” and evinced all sons “equal love”.
The loving worry of the shepherd, teacher and father let Benedict write his rule, the life order, which lasted for centuries and which did not become obsolete until today. The rich experience of a man with always open eyes and a hearing heart therefore becomes an integral picture.
In his youth in Nursia and Rome, in the years of searching in Enfide, in Vicovaro, in the years of abbot service in Subiaco and finally in Monte Cassino Benedict had the opportunity to experience different ways of life and to test them. In the evening of his life from the richness of the things he had experienced, he lifted the treasures, which appeared to him sufficiently valuable to be relayed. He connected them with the things he himself had learned in the daily togetherness and in the constant pondering about the word of the bible to the rule that St. Gregory VII characterized as ”unique in wise restraint, shining in its representation ”.
Although first written Training center. During Desiderius´ abbacy the library of the Abbey were filled with handwritings decorated with miniatures, with mosaics, enamel paintings and goldworks of Oriental style. concretely for Monte Cassino, the rule has got an universality which gives an eloquent testimony from great open heart of its author.
In the year 529 at the position of a former Roman fortification (Municipium of Casium) Benedict of Nursia established the first Abbey which was given his name Benedictine order which spread the Christianity in Europe. The relicts of Benedict of Nursia are buried in the crypt, which is protected by huge walls.
After destruction of the Abbey through the Lombard in 577, Petronax of Brescia got the order by pope Gregor II to rebuild the Abbey in 717.
After that numerous important personalities visited the Abbey, among them the Saxon monks Willibald and Sturmius. Charlemagne was in Monte Cassino in 787 and equipped the Abbey with extensive privileges.
In 883 the Abbey was plundered by the Saracen and was set on fire. However already in the 10th century and 11th century it turned again into political and spiritual prosperity.
Training center. During Desiderius´ abbacy the library of the Abbey were filled with handwritings decorated with miniatures, with mosaics, enamel paintings and goldworks of Oriental style.
In 1349 for the third time the Abbey became almost completely destroyed by an earthquake. During the following rebuilding, different supplements and beautifications in the style of the renaissance and the baroque were made. They gave to the Abbey a magnificent look, which it retained up to 15 February 1944.
At that time, in the final phase of the World War II, Montecassino was a place of refuge for hundreds of civilians and over months it was in the area of the front line (battle of Monte Cassino). Despite repeated contrary insurances on the side of the armed forces, the Allied Forces thought that German soldiers would be in the Abbey on the hill due to the fact of extremely militarily opportune location. The massive, three hour bomb attack directly towards the Abbey caused many deaths of the refugees. With exception of the crypt, on this day the Abbey was destroyed down to the foundation walls.
Only after the bombardment the armed forces moved into the ruins and occupied them for months. Later also the Vatican confirmed that at no time before the bombardment, German soldiers or war equipment was there. Plans and art treasures of the Abbey had been evacuated in time into the Vatican before the attack of the German lieutenant colonel Julius Schlegel occurred.
After the war, the abbey was reconstructed with the help of the Italian state within ten years according to the original building plans - true to the guiding principle of the abbot Ildefonso Rea: “Where it stood and like it was”.
One enters the cloister in the “crossroads at entrance”. At this position stood am Apoll consecrated temple, which Benedict changed into a chapel for the common prayer of the monks and consecrated to the St. Martin Bishop of Tours. In 1953 during construction works one found remains of the original foundations of this chapel.
It was in this Oratory that St. Benedict died in the position described by St. Gregory the Great, his biographer: “Standing, supported by some monks after having received the Holy Comunion”. This episode is recorded by a group of bronze figures amid the crossroads which was a gift from the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.