Day 19 – Tuesday, July 12
“If you are seeking the light, Benedict, why do you choose the dark grotto? The grotto does not offer the light you are seeking. But continue in the darkness to seek the shining light. Because only on a dark night do the stars shine.”
After 7 am Mass at the Gesu, we breakfasted and loaded up for our picnic outing at Subiaco, the birthplace of Western monasticism. When the Vatican bus came to pick us up, we learned the van had no air conditioning and the windows do not open – a problem in 90° weather! So we were taken “behind the scenes” of Vatican City to pick up another van.
We enjoyed the scenic panorama of Rome and its countryside as we drove about an hour and a half into the more mountainous country. We ascended up the mountain on which St. Benedict retreated into a cave for three years. Providentially, an English-speaking Benedictine, Dom Maurizio, OSB, offered his services as a tour guide because the person he was supposed to meet did not come. He showed us the various churches and monastery that had been built over the site where Benedict tried to be a hermit, but the crowds of shepherds and then other people attracted by his sanctity, convinced him to write the Rule of St. Benedict and to found a monastery. (The monastery he founded was down the hill and is now called St. Scholastica.)
Our Franciscan Sisters were delighted to see a fresco of St. Francis of Assisi by an artist who actually saw the Saint when he visited the monastery. It is reputed to be the most authentic image of St. Francis.
For our picnic lunch, we headed down the mountain to the nearby St. Scholastica monastery. Our driver, Maurice, had never tasted an egg salad sandwich before! The monastery did not open until 3:30 pm, although a kind monk opened the museum of the library for us and we were able to see beautiful illuminated manuscripts, as well as the massive first printing press outside of Germany. We also prayed in the little chapel for guests, and enjoyed the scenic view. We expected mountain coolness, but as Sr. Kathleen later said, “I thought I would regret not bringing my sweater – what a joke!!”
The tour was fascinating: various centuries of monastic living, with an amazing 7-story bell tower, frescoes which had perspective 400 earlier than DaVince – eyes that seemed to follow the viewer wherever one went – beautiful courtyards – running water with pipes coming to the kitchen centuries before such a practice became common….
Our eyes and hearts filled with beauty, we climbed into the van for what we expected would be our ride home. After we all were in the van, the engine died. And then the van started going backwards downhill…some of us thought we were about to meet our Maker. After many prayers and appeals to St. Benedict (whom we learned is the patron saint of exorcists!), St. Frances of Rome, and our Blessed Mother, a large car drove up and had the jumper cables to get us moving in the right direction. After many moments of darkness during the day, our supper concluded with much laughter as we recounted the adventures of the day.
Pilgrims ready to climb the hill to St. Benedict's
Dom Maurizio with the painting of St. Francis
A modern statue of St. Scholastica
The ancient bell tower at St. Scolastica's