Just an hour east of Rome, in the town of Subiaco, lies one of the most magical, spiritual places in all of Italy. A monastery literally built into the rock, the Sacro Speco (literally “sacred cave”) Monastery is a truly moving experience.
Benedict of Nursia
The story begins with St. Benedict, or Benedict of Nursia, who was born in Norcia (Umbria) in 480 AD. He ended up in Rome to pursue his studies and eventually ended up in a cave in the hills of Subiaco.
He lived there for three years as a hermit almost completely in solitude. Benedict ended up founding 12 monasteries in the area and wrote the Rule of St. Benedict which would be followed by monks for hundreds of years, and is still relevant today. The order of Benedictine monks would be founded much later.
The Monastery in Subiaco
Similar to the Madonna della Corona Sanctuary near Verona, Sacro Speco was literally built in and around the rock of Mt. Taleo. This is the cave where the Saint spent his hermitage years reflecting and praying in solitude. Fuga mundi, literally “to detach from the world”, is the foundation of monastic life. The cave itself, long before it was a structure, was a place of worship as early as the 6th century.
The first evidence of a building of some type dates to the 8th century and most of what we see today, dates to the mid 11th century.
Nine arches support the structure which is an architectural masterpiece.
While the exterior is impressive for its architecture alone, the interior is almost overwhelming. Precious frescoes dating from the 8th to the 15th centuries adorn the rock walls, the rooms, the church, and the chapels.
Possibly the most appreciated piece depicts Francis of Assisi without a halo or stigmata, completed in approximately 1223 just prior to his death. This is well-regarded as the most important portrait of Francis existing in the world as it is the oldest and is thought to most resemble him.
How to Visit
Mass is still held here daily. Visiting hours are from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm and from 3 to 6 pm daily. Guided tours are available in English, French, German, Spanish, and of course, Italian and can be arranged on-site or if you are coming with a group, in advance. There is no charge for either the visit or the guided tour, but donations are welcome! There is also a gift shop with religious items as well as homemade items made by the monks themselves. Weddings can also be booked at Sacro Speco!
For contact information, visit the official website.