Best known as birthplace (in the late 5th-c A.D.) of San Benedetto, founder of western monasticism, and his twin sister Scolastica, Norcia’s history weaves back through the centuries.
Most likely ancient Nursia was settled as early as the 4th-5th-c B.C. by an Italic tribal people, the Sabines. The Romans moved into the area in about 300 B.C., soon conquering Nursia inspite of the determined resistance of the Sabine tribes.
In the mid 3rd- c A.D., the bishop of Foligno evangelized widely in the territory with such success that Nursia became seat of a diocese in the 4th- c. A.D. The twin saints, Benedict and Scolastica, born into a Roman noble family, grew up in this town of intense spiritual fervor.
Devastated by the Goths (4th-5th c. A.D.), and later sacked by the Germanic Longobards at the end of the 6th-c. A.D., Nursia was invaded by the Saracens in the late 9th c. The people abandoned the town and and Norcia slipped into a period of decadence.
Under domain of the Holy Roman Emperor in the 11th-c., Norcia became an independent comune within the Papal states, enjoying political and economical prestige and remainedpart of the Papal States until the unification of Italy in 1861.
Symbol of the Papal power of Norcia is the 16th-c Castellina built at request of Pope Giulio III who wished a military presidio in Norcia for maximum control of the Papal territories. The Castellina became residence of the Papacy’s apostolic governors – and in 1860, the seat of various offices of local government.
Since 1967, the imposing Papal fortress houses historic and artistic treasures of Norcia in the Museo Civico e Diocesano.
The Castellina stands stalwart, having resisted the earthquake tremors of October 30th, 2016. Devastation of Norcia over the centuries has not only been due to invaders but to earthquakes – and those of 1328, 1703, 1979 e 2016 rank as among the most serious – of many.
On October 30th, 2016 the 6.5 earthquake rocked Norcia, causing heavy damage to various buildings in the city. Very near the more robust Castellina on the Piazza di San Benedetto, the Basilica di San Benedetto dedicated to the Saint was destroyed. Only the facade resisted the tremors and now scaffolded, it seems to be caged, resisting silently. The statue of San Benedetto seems to be pointing to his scaffolded Basilica, as if saying, “Guarda un po’…” (“Just look…”).
The photos of Norcia’s Piazza di San Benedetto before (October 6, 2016) and after (October 30, 2016) the earthquake are heart-rending.
The Benedictine monastic community of Norcia – with many American monks – was left homeless, too…
But those”Monks of Norcia” – as even the locals call them – .have a new home now: on the site of the former 16th-c.Capuchin monastery which is now called “San Benedetto in Monte.” They camped in tents before they built temporary buildings – and are now rebuilding a permanent stone monastery there – on the hill overlooking Norcia, birthplace of founder of their order.
The Norcia Benedictine community had opened a brewery in 2012, damaged in the October 2016 earthquake. But the production of their Birra Nursia continues in borrowed facilities.
No stopping those Benedictines – for after all, the summary of the essence of the Benedictine order is “ora et labor” (“prayer and work”).
(I’d like to thank the Monks of Norcia for the use of their photos – and share this line from the Birra Nursia website: “Every purchase of Birra Nursia helps ensure that the monks will have a place to sing the centuries-old Latin chants, to build up their brewing industry, and to call home.”)