As Benedictine monks in Norcia, Italy rebuild their monastery from the rubble caused by devastating earthquakes last year, they do so in the spirit of their founder, Saint Benedict.
“For us, it’s very symbolic, that is, being at the birthplace of St.
Benedict and St. Scholastica, St. Benedict being the founder of Western
monasticism,” said Fr. Martin Bernhard, O.S.B. of the Benedictine Monks
He noted that St. Benedict (480-547) lived amidst “the collapse of
the Roman empire” and the “collapse of society and structures.”
“Montecassino was destroyed once when he was there as abbot,” Fr.
Martin added of St. Benedict, but the saint “didn’t give up, and he knew
that the real answer was still the worship of God, that the primary
thing he could do is just give back to God and to center our lives and
build our lives around Him in a declining culture and world.”
“And I think in many ways we find ourselves in kind of a similar
situation,” he told CNA. “So we find great consolation in that we have
this opportunity in a way to follow the spirit of our founding father.”
Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict, has been seriously damaged by earthquakes last year.
An earthquake rocked the region in August, causing 247 deaths in
Then a 6.6 magnitude tremor in October caused massive damage to
the town and the Benedictine monastery.
The Basilica of St. Benedict was
totally destroyed and the town was rendered unsafe to dwell in.
Norcia’s main street has re-opened for business but much of the town
is still a “red zone” inaccessible to people, Fr. Martin noted.
the monks’ brewery, which produces “Birra Nursia” has remained largely
A Benedictine monastery had existed for centuries in the town until
they were suppressed in 1810 by the Napoleonic laws of the time.
year 2000, monks based in Rome returned and re-founded the monastery.
Now, the monks have moved outside of the town to a property two
kilometers away, the site of an old Capuchin monastery. They lived in
tents for several weeks before moving into shelters suitable for the
However, conditions are quite crowded in the two buildings of only 96
square meters where the 14 monks sleep, eat, and pray. Their biggest
need is simply a more suitable place to live and pray as they rebuild
the main monastery, especially if the community wants to grow.
basilica will probably take years to rebuild.
The whole ordeal has actually drawn the monks closer to God, however.
“It’s been a very humbling and purifying process,” Fr. Martin said.
“The earthquake and kind of the destruction that we had seen of
material things has really reminded us of the fact that we’re pilgrims
here on earth, and that this world will pass away, and that the biggest,
most glorious things man can build, one day they will come to dust, and
it’s the soul that endures, and it’s God.”
“So even living in…more physically poor conditions, cold conditions
due to winter, has really made us rely upon Him [God] even more,” Fr.
“There’s been a lot of graces for the monks of the monastery. There’s
actually a great peace and joy among the monks despite the great trials
The monks started brewing beer in 2012 and sold “Birra Nursia” to
support the monastery, and sales expanded into the U.S. in 2016.
monks brew two types of Belgian-style ales, “Blonde” and “Extra.”
While the brewery suffered little damage from the earthquake, the
poor condition of the buildings surrounding it mean that the monks
cannot yet use it for brewing. Beer is still available for purchase
online, however, with proceeds going to the monastery rebuilding effort
and 15 percent going to the needs of local residents “who lost their
livelihood because of the earthquake.”
“We’re anxious to get back in there,” Fr. Martin said, noting that
the monks hope to start small-batch brewing again soon. The beer is a
pride of the town, he added.
“It’s very important for us, not only for financial reasons,” he
said, “but also because of the sign and the symbol that it gives to the
town and to the community.”
Local restaurant owners who sell the beer
have been asking the monks when they will start brewing again.
If the monks could come back to the town, that “gives a very tangible sign of hope to the town and to the people,” he added.
The community’s needs are both material and spiritual, he noted.
“I would say the town needs continued hope and faith, that is, the
challenge for them now is to not lose that patience, perseverance, and
endurance and to really trust in God and to move forward and trust that
He has a bigger plan for, really, the care of their souls.”
In addition to the clean-up and rebuilding efforts, the town also
needs “tourism,” he said, an important source of revenue for businesses
before last year’s disasters but one that has been put on hold as many
businesses have not yet re-opened.
Those interested in donating to the monastery’s rebuilding efforts can either do so at the website www.nursia.org or through the purchase of Birra Nursia.
“We live in a Western world that has many struggles and trials, and
in many ways is collapsing, at least perhaps morally. Now around us,
very physically, it has collapsed,” Fr. Martin noted.
“And we now have an opportunity to renew our faith and to rebuild
with that spirit of centering everything around the worship of God, the
most important thing for us.”