Thursday, 5 November 2009

Rome Pilgrimage: out of the city

Today we return to the recent pilgrimage, with a look back at the day out in Subiaco which took place last Thursday. This small town is located a little over an hour's drive from Rome, and the trip provided a welcome change from the noise and activity of city life. What a contrast! The town of Subiaco can be seen in the picture above, nestled amidst the hills. Our pilgrim group travelled above the town, to the place where St Benedict founded his first monastery.

The coach journey up the hill was not for the faint-hearted, as the roads are narrow and winding and there are steep drops at the side. Safely arrived, however, our pilgrims exited the coach...

... and made their way up the hill to the monastery. It was a short walk up the hill, although - contrary to appearances in this picture - the path was fairly steep.

Here is the view at the top: the Benedictine monastery, built into the side of the hill. It is a truly spectacular location and the stunning weather allowed our pilgrims to see it at its best.

Guiding the group was an American Benedictine priest who is staying with the community for a few months. He began with a brief introduction to life of St Benedict, who lived c.480-c.550 and came to Subiaco at about the year 500. Originally living as a hermit in a cave in the hills, a community began to grow up around him. Here he remained until moving to Monte Cassino in around 529.

Now, around the cave where Benedict lived a monastery has been built. Our guide made the point that it is wonderful to be able to look from here and see what Benedict saw from his cave: the same hills and landscape, relatively unchanged in 1500 years.

The tour took the group inside the monastery, where there are many frescoes depicting the life of St Benedict, other saints and scenes from the life of Christ. Among the most interesting is an image of St Francis of Assisi, thought to be more or less contemporary. Francis visited Subiaco and the painting can be dated to close to this time, so it may present us with the closest likeness we have of this great saint. Unfortunately photographs are not allowed inside the monastery itself.

Here is the view that St Benedict would have seen each day. He could hardly have picked a finer spot! One of the highlights of this day of the pilgrimage was the opportunity to celebrate Mass in a chapel just a few feet from St Benedict's cave. It was a memorable experience.