For those looking for a destination for a trip or for a weekend, or for those who love to visit the treasures of art and history in Italy, I highly recommend visiting Subiaco, which was a delightful discovery for me.
An extraordinary and timeless place, a true oasis of peace, of profound spirituality and culture due to the presence of its two monasteries: San Benedetto and Santa Scolastica.
For those looking for a destination for a trip or for a weekend, or for those who love to visit the treasures of art and history of Italy, I highly recommend visiting Subiaco, which was a delightful discovery for me.
An extraordinary and timeless place, a true oasis of peace, of profound spirituality and culture due to the presence of its monasteries: San Benedetto and Santa Scolastica.
Subiaco is a picturesque town in the province of Rome, a medieval village in the wooded mountains about the Aniene River, at the north-eastern most part of the Roman countryside. In fact, this area owes its name to the “Simbruina Stagna”, the artificial ponds created by the Roman Emperor Nero that barred the course of the Aniene river surrounding the emperor’s villa.
In this area, at the end of the 5th century, the young Benedetto da Norcia retired to a cave, today known as the “Sacro Speco”, which he chose as the first hermitage and where he founded the Benedictine order.
From this ancient spiritual adventure, the Benedictine presence and the memory of the monasteries founded by St. Benedict remain in Subiaco.
The town of Subiaco undoubtedly has medieval charm and it is pleasant place to spend time, however the greatest attraction from an artistic and religious point of view is constituted by the two monasteries. They are located outside of town, just a few kilometers away.
Although it is possible to reach the monasteries by car and there are parking areas, I preferred to walk to the two monuments, to fully enjoy the beauty of the area. The road, in fact, passes next to the ruins of the ancient villa of Nerone and then goes uphill among vineyards and olive groves allowing you to enjoy the magnificent view of Subiaco and the wild and evocative panorama of the Aniene valley, close to the limestone mountains.
The Monastery of Santa Scolastica
The first religious complex that you arrive at coming from Subiaco is Santa Scolastica, the only surviving monastery of the original 13 structures founded in the area by Saint Benedict.
Here, a very prepared guide showed me every detail of the path between cloisters, including a gothic one characterized by a large arch of gothic-flamboyant shapes with Catalan influences, and by the presence of a well in the center, flanked by two columns coming from Nero’s villa.
From here we entered the church with a fourteenth-century facade, a beautiful Romanesque bell tower and an interior decorated with fifteenth-century frescoes.
The church allows access to another cloister, perhaps the most beautiful in the convent, decorated by the thirteenth century mosaic masters. The portico that frames the rectangular floor plan is made up of groups of small arches with smooth and twisted columns that hold graceful capitals.
The place is timeless: it seems to go back in the Middle Ages, when the ancient monks walked in prayer under those beautiful arcades.
The plunge into the Middle Ages is complete when you look into the monastery library, which contains important illuminated manuscripts, incunabula and even the first book published in Italy.
The Monastery of San Benedetto
Returning to the main road you quickly arrive at the Monastery of San Benedetto, called the Sacro Speco because it was built at the end of the twelfth century above the cave where Saint Benedict spent the first years of monastic life.
The main sanctuary of the Benedictine order, the monastery is in a splendid position under a high rock face and presents itself as a group of extremely picturesque buildings, dominated by a small tower and resting on nine arches.
The complex includes two small overlapping churches and a series of chapels and caves connected by stairways.
First we visit the 16th-century upper church, extremely evocative, with a single nave decorated with frescoes from the artistic schools of Siena and Umbria-Marches.
Descend two flights of stairs to arrive at the lower church: a truly unique placethat will leave you speechless. In fact the chapels, located at different levels and entirely carved out of the rock, are adorned with frescoes from the 13th-14th century.
An atmosphere of intimate spirituality pervades the air, this area is also the entrance to the Sacro Speco, where St. Benedict spent three years in solitude.
Finally we arrive at the Holy Stairs, so called because it was built on the steep path that St. Benedict used to ascend to the Sacro Speco. This, too, is decorated with frescoes.
A splendid visit at the two monasteries, from a cultural, artistic and religious point of view. A day trip that is enriching and enables you to better understand the history and traditions that still influence the people of the Roman countryside.
It is possible to take guided tours of the two monasteries in one day.