Monday, July 05, 2010

Monte Cassino Abbey . . .

. . . Peace and war


In Dialogues, Pope Gregory I documented miracles, healings and other signs, and has some commentary on St. Benedict and St. Scholastica.

In Book II, 34.1, Gregory briefly writes of the last few days of St. Scholastica's life:

While praying in his tower cell and looking out the small window three days after Scholastica has left, Benedict "raised his eyes to the skies and saw the soul of his sister leaving her body and penetrating the secret places of heaven under the form of a dove"

I took this photo of a small window above the Cloister of Bramante. Immediately after I snapped the photo, the dove took to wing, and disappeared into the heavens. Having read the story before our visit, I found the experience to be very moving.


During the Allies' 1944 push through the Liri Valley towards Rome, they were stymied by the Gustav Line. Because of its prominent position on the peak, the Allied commander, General Sir Harold Alexander, was convinced that the Abbey was being used as an observation post for German artillery.

Alexander was unaware (or, to be more charitable, did not believe) that Field Marshall Albert Kesselring had ordered the German troops NOT to use the Abbey for strategic purposes. In February 1944, U.S. General Mark Clark, on orders from Alexander, ordered a devastating raid on the Abbey. It was reduced to a smoking heap of rubble.

Fortunately, two months earlier, Lt.Col. Julius Schlegel and Capt. Maximilian Becker recognized the historical value of the Abbey's extensive collections, and had them removed to the Vatican. This was apparently done on Schlegel's own volition, without clearance or orders from his command.

Many historians now believe that the Germans did not occupy the Abbey before the bombing, and judge the Allies very harshly for their action. Perhaps that is true. However, the Germans DID build heavily fortified emplacements and observation posts near the Abbey walls and all across the mountain. Was their purpose in doing this to protect the Abbey - or to take advantage of the Allies' reluctance to attack a target of such historic importance? That is a question I am not qualified to answer.

Monte Cassino today.

Monte Cassino - February 1944