IN THE DIM LIGHT OF CASAMARI ABBEY (ITALY) HIGH EXPRESSION OF MONASTIC GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE

Presenting my latest book (“Social or dis-social?”) that tells about the responsible use of technology and digital communication between the walls of one of the most important and historic Italian abbeys, that of Casamari (Comune di Veroli, Frosinone, Lazio), founded in 1203, high expression of monastic gothic architecture, still home to a community of Cistercian monks, which animate a library of medieval origin and craft workshops for the production of ancient traditional products, from liqueurs to different types of honey. So, I really had an exceptional setting for the presentation meeting of my book “Social or dis-social” – with illustrations by Eleonora Moretti, and published in Italy by Funtasy Editrice leaded by Paolo Sandini – with the students of the secondary school hosted in the abbey. Obviously I did not miss the opportunity of a visit. It was an evocative experience to walk and stop in the silence and dim light of the ancient church.

The abbey of Casamari is situated in the territory of Veroli (Frosinone), on the Via Maria, mid-way between Frosinone and Sora, and lies on a rocky hill sloping down to the torrent Amaseno, at about 300 metres above sea-level. It was built on the ruins of an ancient Roman municipium named Cereatae, being dedicated to the goddess Ceres, at Marianae, for it was the birthplace, or at least a residence, of Caius Marius, from whom the abbey later derived its name. The documents witness the presence of a Benedectine monastic community in the 11th century, under the name of Casamari.

The monastery soon showed a strong vitality both spiritual as well as social and economical, but, in the early 12th century it was affected by a rather long crisis due to a sort of ungovernability (which is witnessed by the frequent resignation of its abbots) caused by both a decline of the Curtis system and the political and religious confusion of that period. During the schism of Anaclet II (1130-1138), when Bernard of Clairvaux, by his persistant work of mediation, became the leading promoter of the Church’s unity through the recognition of Innocent II as pope, Italy became acquainted with the Cistercians while all Europe watched and supported the Order’s astonishing, miraculous expansion.
It was with that political and religious background that a large number of Benedectine monasteries applied for incorporation to this religious Order which guaranteed absolute faithfulness and the popes themselves promoted an aggregative movement. The abbey of Casamari, too, was incorporated to the Order of Citeaux through Bernard’s personal initiative and became the XXIX direct daughter-house of Clairvaux.
The Cistercians started the construction of the monastery which we can still admire today, following the Order’s typical planimetry, pulling down some parts of the ancient Benedectine building and using others as a “valetudinarium” (hospital). In 1203, Pope Innocent III blessed the first stone of the church, the construction of which went on under the management of Fra’ Guglielmo of Casamari until 1217. On September 15th of that year; the basilica was consecrated and dedicated to Our Lady Received into Heaven.
Casamari suffered heavy damages in the early 15th century when Ladislaus of Anjou, after storming Veroli, besieged and plundered the monastery. ln 1417 the mercenary troops of Muzio Attendolo Sforza, at the service of Queen Joan II of Naples and allied to the pope, attacked the armies of Jacopo di Caldora and the Count of Mondrisio, both supporters of Braccio di Montone, who were barricaded in the monastery. It has been said that the western wing if the building was damaged in the clash.
After the war, the cause of Casamari’s decline, and that of other monasteries too, was the institution of the commendam. It was extended to the abbey by Pope Martin V, in 1430, in favour of his nephew Cardinal Prospero Colonna and it was suppressed only in 1850 by Pope Pius IX. During Napoleon’s first campaign in Italy some French soldiers, on their way back, plundered the monastery and desecrated the Eucharist, although they had been received with open arms by Prior Simon Cardon. Some of the monks were able to escape, but six of them, among whom the prior himself, were slain while gathering the sacred particles. They were thus considered martyrs of the Eucharist and later buried in the abbey church. In 1873, owing to the laws of suppression, the abbey was deprived of its possessions and the following year; was declared a national monument.
In spite of endless change, Casamari is still one of the Cistercian monasteries in which monastic life has had no interruptions since its foundation, except for the short period 1811-1814.  Owing in part to the influence of the Trappists’ severe observance in the 18th-19th centuries, common prayer; above all liturgy and lectio divina, is very important to the Congregation’s spirituality. They spend a large part of their time in work, by which they earn a living for themselves and some aid for the poor and missions. Their occupations vary from teaching to sacred ministry as well as scientific, handicraft and agricultural works. In 1830 the Congregation, entrusted by the Holy See, introduced the Catholic monasticism into Ethiopia. From the mother-house, Casamari, have come other groups of monks, giving life to some new monasteries, one of which is in the United States of America and another in Brazil. According to the latest statistics, the Congregation of Casamari now consists of sixteen monasteries and three residences, with 220 monks.

Photo by Roberto Alborghetti (8)

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