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Prefatory Words

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Latian Summers

Dorothea Roberts

Junior Army & Navy Stores, Limited

The text is in the public domain,
except for my notes.
Any color photographs are
© William P. Thayer or as indicated.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 2

 p3  Subiaco
The Oldest Benedictine Monastery of the West

[Link to a page in German]
Ch. 52
The far‑famed Benedictine Monastery of Subiaco lies in one of the most beauti­ful mountain gorges of the Roman Campagna, four and forty miles​1 from Rome.​a Through this ravine the ever-cold waters of the Anio rush down to the Tiber. A spur reaching out from the Apennines, called the Simbruine Hills, here divides the states of the Church from the Kingdom of Naples,​2 whose frontier province is the ancient territory of the Marsi, now called Marsica, in the Abruzzi. The Anio, plunging down it with great impetus, has carved for itself a deep, narrow ravine, which feeds the cascades at Tivoli.

On the crests of the mountains which close in this beauti­ful river between their cliffs once stood  p4 many dark feudal castles of the Middle Ages — Filettino, Trevi, Jenne, Subiaco, Agosta, Cervara, Marano, Anticoli, Roviano, Cantalupo,​b Saracinesco, Vicovaro, St. Polo, Castel Madama, and Tivoli. All these borgos were in former days under the jurisdiction of that old Benedictine Monastery of Subiaco. This was the stage on which a remarkable drama was acted during the Middle Ages in that then little-known province, the Roman Latium. Subiaco was, above all else, the cradle of the Monasticism of the Western Church.

Out of these wild solitudes — these barren mountains — went forth colonies of monks to found all the Monastic Settlements of France, of Germany, of remote Britain, of Italy, and of Sicily. Their monks helped to rivet all those lands to the Chair of St. Peter in Rome; and, to the lasting benefit of the whole civilised world, they also sowed in them the seeds of culture; they preserved classic learning, they collated, transcribed, and sought to recover its fragments; toiling in their dusky cells by the dim light of the midnight lamp. The monks wrote their Chronicles for the benefit of our later ages, in those dark days when rapine and violence were prevalent over the whole known world. If they had but recorded what occurred day by day, they  p5 would have left us priceless records. It is strange that men living, as they did, remote from the tumult of the world should be the founders of historical research; although, perhaps, less strange when we remember that the cloister was in those days in very close relation­ship with the political life of the civilised world.

The following pages will record a few of the more remarkable events in the history of this most important monastic establishment. It is true that, as regards historical and scientific records, Subiaco is excelled by her eldest daughter, Monte Cassino, standing above the river Liris. We may safely say that the whole of the Middle Ages were illumined — as by some solitary beacon light — by Monte Cassino. To this day, the treasures which her archives disclose to us testify to the learning and the industry of her monks. Yet, treating, as it does, of the conditions existing during the earlier days of the Church in the Roman Provinces, the history of Subiaco is all‑important. The picture it presents to us of the spiritual feudalism then existing in the Kingdoms of the West is most instructive.

Whilst a small town subject to it had been gradually gathering round the monastery, Subiaco stepped forth into the Roman Catholic realm as a mighty principality. Her Abbot was a king, her  p6 monks were barons, while knight and peasant, alike, lived for long ages, subservient and obedient to her suzerainty.

Subiaco was founded at that period when the valiant Goths under Theodoric had conquered the whole of Italy, as well as Rome. The wise rule of those conquerors retarded for half a century the submersion of the old Roman culture, albeit the fall of the empire was already foredoomed. In days when the ties uniting the people with the State had been rent asunder, and the old order of things had ceased to exist, certain men felt impelled to flee away to the wilderness, and live in caves, in deserts, as their predecessors had done in the early years of the fourth century. Then it was that Benedict, accompanied by his young friend Gregory the Great, founded not only Western Monasticism, but the Roman Hierarchy. What that Hierarchy owed to Benedict Pope Gregory has recognised and defined in his second book of Dialogues. He freed the Church of Rome from the Byzantine Ordinances; he established a national rubric; he sent disciples out into all the Western lands; and so he brought their people under the sway of Rome.

Benedict was born at Nursia, in the province of Valeria, in the year 480. At the age of fourteen  p7 he came to Rome to perfect himself in his "humanities." Then, suddenly overcome by a longing for solitude, he wandered away into the wild mountains, where he lived, absorbed in enthusiastic contemplation, for many years.

Peinz describes the place now called Subiaco as being the site of Nero's splendid villa, Sublaquum, or sub lacu, so named because of its position under the artificial lakes which had been constructed there by the Emperor, and where he caught trout in golden nets. The trout of the Anio maintain their excellence to this day, but Nero's lakes have long since vanished.​c

When the youthful Anchorite lived there, no town existed at Subiaco. St. Clement had, indeed, built a convent out of the ruins of Nero's villa, and to one of its brethren, the monk Romanus, Benedict was indebted for his daily food. Roused, presently, by the frequent admonitions of his sister Scolastica, the youthful hermit, forsaking his solitude, came forth once more into the world, like Mahomet emerging from his grotto. The fame of his sanctity was already in the ears of men, and many young Roman citizens came out to join him. Then it was that he framed Rules for his Order, and divided the brethren into twelve distinct communities.  p8 Twelve monasteries were founded — all in the same long valley — in the recesses of its wild and rocky fastnesses. Looking down from Subiaco, we cannot but admire Benedict's feeling for beauti­ful scenery, as it was shown in his choice of this site for his Monastic Settlement. The summits of its encircling hills rise, sharply defined against the blue sky, some bare and jagged, others clothed with chestnuts and olives; and out of their green shades the nightingale pours forth her song to the rushing stream far below. Not one of those distant and entrancing views, in which the Roman Campagna is so rich, can be descried from Subiaco — prospects which seem to steep the senses in warm sunshine. The horizon is shut out from Subiaco, and fenced all around by nearer rocky heights. To the north two mountains lie couchant, their giant forms stretching out across the plain. Between these the Anio cleaves its way with such force that no power can resist its waters. They whirl round each mass of rock in silver eddies, and plunge down into dark chasms with a sad, deafening roar, which carries the mind of the solitary traveller far away into dreamland. Here, on steep and lonely heights above the river, sat, like monuments, those holy men from Rome, in their twelve Monasteries. This Subiaco valley may have been to them what the ravines  p9 of Egypt were to Athanasius and Antonius and the many Anchorites who followed them.

Pelagius of Vicovaro sought to dissolve a settlement of which he was jealous. He malevolently sent a bevy of beauti­ful young women to invade the cells of the Subiaco monks. Then it was that Benedict, taking his staff in his hand, forsook the consecrated spot where he had taught his acolytes, and wandered away, accompanied by three young ravens which he had reared and cherished, over the mountains till he reached Monte Cassino; and here, in the year 529, he founded that Monastery whose fame was to become world-wide.

Subiaco maintained his ordinances faithfully under Honoratus, whom he installed his successor as its Abbot. The story of the twelve other Monasteries is not preserved. The frightful war of extermination, then carried on by the Goths in Italy, would appear to have hindered their growth.

Honoratus built the Subiaco Monastery, consecrating it to the Saints Cosmas and Damianus. This one, of all the twelve, now remains. It is called Santa Scolastica. The others were destroyed by the Lombards in 601, the expelled Benedictine brethren taking refuge in Rome, where they were given the Monastery of St.  p10 Erasmus, on the Coelian Hill, by the Pope. Gregory the Great is believed to have invested Subiaco with its temporal power. To him is ascribed a charter of the year 599, endowing the monastery with a number of territories and privileges. On the strength of this apocryphal​d document, the monks continued to enjoy their great possessions. The charter has only been preserved in the form of a so‑called authentic transcript of the year 1654. There are other charters of a similar description, bestowing further estates on Subiaco, both from Gregory IV, Nicholas I, and from the Kings Hugo and Lothaire, of the date 941, which no person of common intelligence could account as genuine. Forgeries indeed abounded. Leo X burnt many of them with his own hands when he visited the Subiaco Monastery in 1051.

Benedict's Monastery lay waste for a hundred and four years. In the year 705 Pope John VII once more settled a community of monks in it; but in 840 it was again ravaged, this time by the Saracens. Its Abbot, Peter I, rebuilt it shortly afterwards. In 938 it was destroyed by the Hungarians, to be again reconstructed, from its foundations, in the Papacy of Benedict VII, who consecrated the Abbey Church, dedicating it to St. Benedict and Santa  p11 Scolastica, on the 4th of December 981. Henceforth Subiaco suffered no more from destroying forces, and its Monastery, now enriched by actual and undisputed endowments, began to flourish exceedingly. Its chronicles relate that its Abbot exercised feudal power early in the eleventh century, a period when vassalage was greatly developed in all the Kingdoms of Europe.

In such estimation was Benedict's Abbey held that power­ful barons in the Campagna were wont to bestow castles and estates upon it. In proof of this we read that Count Rainoldo of Marsia relinquished to Subiaco, Arsoli, Anticoli, and Roviano, and many other fortresses, in perpetual fief — for in those days the Abbot was a feudal baron. It is strange, however, to know that the town of Subiaco, which had grown up around, and under the fostering care of the Monastery, was not subjected to the overlord­ship of the monks.

On the wall of the vestibule of Santa Scolastic, by the principal doorway of the church, there is an inscription built into the masonry, dated 1052, the fourth year of the pontificate of Leo IX. This sets forth, firstly, that the most venerable Bishop Hubertus had built a tower upon the Monastery to the glory of  p12 Christ, His disciple, Benedict, and of his sister, Santa Scolastica. It then proceeds to enumerate the possessions of the Abbey — namely, the grotto of Benedict, lying between Nero's villa and the two lakes; the river Anio, with all its fisheries and other privileges; and twenty-four castles in the vicinity.​e The town of Subiaco, however, is not mentioned as under its ecclesiastical suzerainty. Abbot John built a fortress there — so the historian relates — in the year 1068, and then Subiaco at last became the feudatory of its Monastery. That fortress and palace may still be seen, crowning the conical hill on the slopes of which the town is built.

John V, Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica, in Rome, a power­ful and truculent prelate, seems to have secured, single-handed, the domination of the town by the ecclesiastics of Subiaco. He reigned there, a sacerdotal prince, for fifty-nine long years, warring success­fully with his neighbours, the barons of the Campagna. He filled the monastery with all manner of precious things, the most lasting memento which he bestowed on the place being the church. This he built over Benedict's grotto, the Sacro Speco. He died, at a ripe old age, in the year 1121.

After his death, the Benedictine Abbots strode  p13 forth into the Campagna as warlike princes, much dreaded, and considered as equally power­ful with the Colonna and the Orsini, with whom they waged war. Their vassals, whether they might be peasants or the owners of feudatory castles, groaned beneath a despotism all the more frightful because it was exercised by men whose passions were neither softened nor restrained by any consideration for the rights of their fellow‑men and fellow-citizens.

These men were themselves the slaves of the clerical despots of the Monastery — of its reigning Abbots elected by themselves; yet they tyrannised over the people as tax‑collectors, bailiffs, and judges quite irresponsibly — sole arbiters of the lives of those wretched people. The Abbot sent a monk, as castellan, to each feudatory castle, to administer justice — barbaric justice. Some of the miseries under which these poor people groaned were mitigated by a decree of Gregory IX, in 1232. From thenceforth the monk, when holding his court of justice, was obliged to summon, on behalf of the populace, an advocate from their own ranks. This advocate was called the buon uomo, and his intervention deprived the monks of their supreme jurisdiction. The bailiff collected the taxes, but advocates chosen from the people dispensed  p14 justice independently of him, but in the Abbot's name.

The feudatories of the Monastery were of three ranks: free vassals, who were not obliged to bear arms or fight for their ecclesiastical landlord, as they held no land in fief from him; the Milites, who were bound to fight for the Abbot in time of war, being feudatories of the Monastery; and lastly, the Servi, or bondsmen. All who lived in vassalage, whether occupying castle or township, were under the column of the Connetable (or bailiff), and thus a small, but efficient, army was always at the call of the Abbot. Later on he subsidised troops, just like any other feudal baron. If he were a man of war, he led his troops into battle in person, mounted on his charger, his sword by his side, his shield on his arm. His standing feuds with the Bishops of Palestrina, Tivoli, and Anagni, as well as his constant quarrels with the barons, gave ample occasion for such deeds of arms. The Abbot went to his eternal rest with his sword either girt on him, or laid by his side.

These Abbots belonged, for the most part, to the most important families of the Campagna. Such was Abbot Lando, nephew of Innocent III, of the distinguished family of the Conti of Segni. He died in 1244. Alas! Neither the iron despotism  p15 of the Abbots, nor the strict rules and regulations of monastic life, could preserve the brethren from certain aberrations of a most unholy nature. The conditions of the Pope's household at Rome were reproduced on a smaller scale at Subiaco. The monks, filled with rabid party animosity and ambition, began to laugh at the rules laid down for their guidance by Benedict. At the death of their Abbot, in 1276, one of them, named Pelagius, fell upon the Monastery with an armed force — he stormed it — and proclaimed himself temporal ruler of the whole territory. He drove out the brethren, he plundered the church, he seized the contents of the treasury — then, with his spoils, he retreated to Cervara, a rocky fastness above Subiaco, which strong place he held by force of arms, the Abbey meantime lying empty and deserted below. The Pope proceeded to appoint another Abbot, who arrived presently with a strong military escort; but Pelagius could only be dislodged after he had made a strenuous resistance to this force.

[Link to a page in German]
Ch. 53
When the Popes were exiled to Avignon matters grew still worse. Again the Abbey was deserted for a long space of years, and when an Abbot, consecrated at Avignon, was sent to take possession of the See, the monks,  p16 his vassals at Subiaco, broke out into open rebellion against him. Bartholomew of Monte Cassino, who was also appointed to the See from Avignon, led the most dissolute of lives at Subiaco.

He had a harem filled with beauti­ful girls in the palace, his monks following the lead in this respect. The Monastery was threatened at last with suppression, and was only saved from it by Adhemar, a Provençal, who became Abbot in 1353. He was a petty tyrant, in his own sphere. What his government was may be conceived if we realise that, on one day alone, seven recalcitrant monks were hung up over a slow fire, to be burnt to death.

He was an avowed Ghibelline, and fought for his cause against the Bishop of Tivoli's troops by the banks of the Anio. To this day, the citizens show the spot where a covered bridge, with a small fortified tower upon it, crosses the river, and tell the stranger how it was built by the prisoners taken by Adhemar, and paid for out of the booty taken at Tivoli.

The turbulence waxed greater, and as neither papal decrees nor repeated reforms availed to quell it, Urban VI at last resolved to make an end of it by a coup de main. His Bull of 1386 deprived the monks of their rule — reaching back  p17 to the days when the Monastery was founded, and enjoyed for a longer period than that of any merely secular sovereign in the world — and also of their privilege of electing their spiritual ruler for themselves.

They bowed before the Papal edict, though with many murmurings, and from henceforth their glory departed, and the prestige of this great Benedictine Monastery diminished steadily.

The Abbots, chosen by the Pope, were henceforth called Manuales, as receiving the charge from his sacred hands. The first of these was Tommaso di Celano,​f a warm partisan of Urban, and a man of distinguished ability. This order of things lasted until the year 1455, when the Abbots lost, also, the feudal dominion they had hitherto wielded over the communes attached to the Abbey.

It has been stated that the persistent tyranny exercised over their dependants by these prelates was the cause of this deprivation.

Their suzerainty had weighed like a curse upon their poor subjects. The gaols were always full, while wretched prisoners were frequently thrown into those subterranean rivers which occur in limestone hills. Their bitter discontent found a vent in November of 1454, when a circumstance took place which  p18 brought matters to a climax. It so chanced that a band of fifteen youths when crossing the piazza at Subiaco had one day jeered at some monks and set their dogs upon them. The monks laid a complaint before the Abbot. This dignitary sent his bailiff in the night to the different houses in which these lads, several of whom belonged to families much esteemed in the town, resided. When the sun rose, the bodies of all these fifteen young men were found by their fellow-citizens suspended, quite dead, from gallows set on the heights around the town. To this day these hills are called the colli delle forche.g At this the townsfolk rose up in their wrath and stormed the Monastery. They slaughtered the brethren, flinging them out of the windows into the ravine beneath — they laid waste the entire building. As a sequel to this, Pope Calixtus III made Subiaco an abbey in commendam. He gave the first presentation to the office to the Commendatore Juan Torquemada, a Spaniard, Cardinal of Santa Maria in Trastevere, and a man of great learning. He received, with the administration of that rich benefice, the task of reorganising the Abbey, and settling the affairs of its feudal castles. A new statute was established and enacted, namely, that the Abbot, when inducted to the See, should, in the first place,  p19 swear in an authorised governing body of men qualified to receive the oath of allegiance of all the subjects of the Monastery.

To Torquemada, its first Cardinal-Abbot, Subiaco owes the glory of being able to call itself the first place outside Germany from which printed books were issued from a printing press, before such a press was set up in Rome itself — a press was afterwards established there in the Massimo Palace — the printers Arnold Pannartz and Conrad Schweinheym, had been hospitably received by the monks of Subiaco, and it was on the 30th of October 1465 that they accomplished the printing of the Institutions of Lactantius. In 1467 they completed the work by St. Augustine called De Civitate Dei. Thus, too, it happens that the best monuments left by those Benedictines of their then existing learning are also worthy testimonies to the progress of the arts of peace in our own German Fatherland. These works are still preserved in the library of the Monastery of Santa Scolastica at Subiaco.

Torquemada died in Rome in 1467, and was succeeded by another Spaniard, Rodrigo Borgia, afterwards Pope Alexander VI.

Though not made famous by the writing of learned treatises, Borgia's name is preserved  p20 as having built a wing to the palace in 1476. On this he erected a square tower, which is still standing by the side of the Fortress. His coat-of‑arms is emblazoned on its outer wall, with an inscription setting forth that Cardinal Rodrigo had strengthened this Fortress of Subiaco for the protection of the monks and their Monastery, and for the greater security of this outpost of the Roman Church. Sixteen years later he was raised to the pontificate as Pope Alexander VI. He bought the vote of Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, at the Conclave, by promising him the reversion of the Abbacy which he himself was about to vacate; but the friendship between Alexander VI and the house of Colonna was short-lived. This most power­ful of all the great Roman families now began to contravene the crooked policy of the Borgias, who aimed at creating great temporalities for themselves at the cost of the barons, using craft and subtlety to compass their ends. Cardinal Colonna fled to Sicily, being forced to give up the commendam, which Alexander then bestowed on Luigi de Aspris, a native of Palermo. Aspris enjoyed the revenues of the See during the remaining years of Alexander's pontificate.

Scarcely was that horrible Pope dead, however, when his successor, Julius II, replaced  p21 and reinstated Colonna in his commendam at Subiaco. At his death, in 1508, he bequeathed the office to his infamous nephew Pompeo Colonna. This wanton prelate is said to have abducted the beauti­ful Marsilia, daughter of Attilio Corsi. When her father made his way into the apartment of Pompeo, sword in hand, to avenge his daughter's dishonour, he was seized by the attendants of the Cardinal-Abbot and flung into a subterranean cell at Subiaco. Pompeo had already quarrelled with Pope Julius on the plea of that Pontiff's interference in the matter of uniting the Sees of Subiaco and Farfa. Farfa, the third of the great Benedictine Monasteries, had been founded in Latium in the sixth century, and endowed by the Lombard Duke of Spoleto, near whose territories it lay. This attempt to join the Abbacies gave rise to perpetual strife, as one section of the Subiaco brethren wished to be linked to Monte Cassino, from which foundation they had been cut off in 1514, while the other, or German, faction desired to be joined to Farfa, which carried with it the title of "imperial." Many Germans resided at Farfa, and, as a consequence, their Emperor bestowed upon it numerous benefactions. When it so happened that Benedictines were expelled from  p22 Monte Cassino, they were apt to be reinstalled at Farfa by the Popes.

Pompeo Colonna was excommunicated by Julius II, but recalled and rehabilitated by his successor, Leo X, when he made over his commendam to his nephew Scipione. The family of Colonna was then all‑powerful in the Campagna, where they had created a small kingdom for themselves out of the Volscian and Hernican towns. They now strove to add Subiaco in perpetuity to these towns, as nephews of their house had succeeded one another in the See. It was not possible to dislodge these nephews. They went on reigning at Subiaco for the incredibly long space of 116 years. For that length of time did the Monastery remain in the hands of this potent family, in spite of its embroilments with the Holy See. Clement VII sustained a disastrous defeat there in 1528. His troops had destroyed the Rocca in 1527, but the following year they suffered a shameful reverse under the leader­ship of Napoleone Orsini. The Papal banner, then captured, still hangs in the church of Santa Scolastica — a trophy of that victory which is each year celebrated by a procession at Subiaco, so persistent are historical memories or traditions in those regions.

The rule of the Colonna family was lawless  p23 and cruel, just such as Manzoni has depicted similar governments in the Lombardo-Spanish province in his famous novel. Seated aloft in their mountain Fortress, those Cardinal-Commendatori considered the purple vestments they were clad in the symbols of regal power. They held in their pay bandits, known by the name of Bravos, always ready to carry out their most trifling mandates. Neither the property nor the honour of the surrounding families was safe from these mercenaries, who lived encamped in the courtyard of the Colonna castle.

While affairs were still in suspense as to Farfa and Monte Cassino respectively, Scacciadiavolo, Pompeo's much-dreaded bravo, fell one night upon Santa Scolastica, plundered it, and drove out all the monks. The Cardinal, it was rumoured, had a hand in this business; in fact, he was soon afterwards deposed by the Pope; but only, as we have seen, to be once more installed by his successor. The history of those times abounds with deeds of violence. In Subiaco many spots are still pointed out which are infamous as connected with such dark doings. Beneath the fortress they showed me a place where several of the citizens were once buried alive. Amongst other horrors we are told of a matricide, which was the cause of the inexorable  p24 execution of the sentence passed on the Cenci family. A son of the Santa Croce family in Rome strangled his mother at Subiaco in 1599. On hearing of his frightful crime, the Pope at once signed the death-warrant of Beatrice Cenci, her brother, and her stepmother.

Meantime, the monastery passed from the control of one Colonna to fall into the hands of another; their most prominent names are bound up with its history, the names especially of Marcantonio, Camillo, and Ascanio Colonna. This latter was the last Cardinal-Abbot of his race. Ascanio lived in the Subiaco palace so shamelessly with his beloved Artemisia that he even left this beauti­ful woman to be his locum tenens when he was called to Rome. The universal disgust excited by this proceeding cost Ascanio and his family the office of Commendatore. After his death the Pope bestowed it on his own nephew, Scipione Caffarelli Borghese.

This Colonna family left no good name behind it. The place itself had little to be grateful to them for; only a few rooms added to the palace, adorned with paintings and with their coats-of‑arms, now remain to show that they had reigned at Subiaco for over a hundred years.

Until the middle of the seventeenth century  p25 the Colonna and Orsini families had been lords of the Roman Campagna. Now the Borghese and Barberini began to supplant them. The latter great family at that period began to acquire some of the finest estates in Latium, estates which are held by them still (1855). The towns in all this district are adorned with their stately many-chambered palaces; on their walls still hang the portraits of Barberini barons with their several dates attached to them. You find them continually, even in the remote hill-towns of the Hernican Highlands. As I write these words, I am sitting with the family pictures of the Barberini Cardinals, and of many stately dames, looking down upon me from the walls around. Just over my head hangs the comfortable presentment of Scipione Borghese. His was an age when gallant and freethinking absolutism prevailed, in its powdered peruke and silk stockings. Its character was feeble, intriguing, and revoltingly prosaic. The iron-clad warriors of the Middle Ages were then transformed into carpet knights who reclined upon cushions, feasting on the fruits borne to them in their mountain palaces by their trembling vassals. So often as a new Cardinal made his entry in state into Subiaco to take possession of his benefice, he came at the head of an army of mercenaries, and a gang of insolent  p26 domestics, to receive the keys of the gate from the hands of the Municipality.

The Barberini drove the Borghese out of Subiaco. Urban VIII, the founder of a former rich nepotic house, gave the commendam to Antonio, his nephew, in 1633, and from that date the Barberini followed in the footsteps of the Colonna, remaining rulers at Subiaco for 105 long years. Antonio increased the power of the Cardinal-Abbots, adding to their feudal rights the spiritual rights hitherto enjoyed by his other nephew, the Bishops of Tivoli, Anagni, and Palestrina. Dominating their wretched dependants from their fortresses above the Anio, a terror to the miserable peasant, so pitiless was this despotism that to snare a pheasant or a quail was to be subject to a penalty of ten years at the galleys. But the Barberini at least left something behind them which was beneficial. From its good water supply, Subiaco seemed well adapted for industrial development, and perceiving this they built factories for the manufacture of paper and the weaving of cotton stuffs, by which some hundreds of poor people gained food and work. Yet but little good development of any industry could be looked for when the Cardinal-Commendatore received royalties on the profits of all factories.

 p27  While the Monastery continued to prosper, the monks had not forgotten that they themselves had at one time been its feudal lords.

Seizing their opportunity, no sooner was Francesco Barberini dead, in the year 1738, than they straightway asserted their ancient right by electing their vicar Bernardo Abbot of Subiaco. He allowed the brethren to carry him, like a lesser Pope, to the church; he received the oaths of allegiance of the citizens through the Gonfaloniere, and pledged himself to abide by the statutes of the Commune. After the ceremonial was over, they bore him on their shoulders, seated in the episcopal chair, through the town, in imitation of the custom which accompanies the consecration of a new Pope. Bernardo then began to issue edicts, to recall exiles, to pardon offenders, while he appointed bailiffs, and placed them in his feudatory castles. His orations, addressed to his subjects, might have been uttered by a prelate of the thirteenth century. The edict by which he proclaims himself their Cardinal-Commendatore begins with the following pompous words: "We, Dom Bernardo Cretoni, of the Order of St. Benedict, monk and provost of the most sacred and imperial Abbey of Santa Maria of Farfa; also, by the grace of God, now the elected Abbot of the holy Monastery of Santa Scolastica;  p28 also, by the grace of the holy Apostolic Chair, Vice-regent, as well in secular as in spiritual concerns, of the said Chair. . . ."

The third Abbot in succession after Bernardo met with the most obstinate resistance from the citizens. They abhorred, equally, this return to the despotism of the cowl, and its adverse effects on their municipal development.

They addressed themselves to the Pope, who then appointed Cardinal Spinoza Commendatore. His accredited envoy took possession finally at Subiaco, on behalf of the new Cardinal Abbot.

[Link to a page in German]
Ch. 54
The hatred of the people for all feudal institutions had reached its height towards the middle of the eighteenth century. The collective Monasticism of the world, when it came into contact with the civic constitutions of the different States, had to feel the effect of this universal hatred.

At Subiaco a crusade was organised against the Benedictines. Songs ridiculing the monks were sung, and men read aloud in the streets a history of the Abbey, stirring up the people by this recital of their fathers' sufferings under the long rule of the Abbots, whom they painted in hideous colours. The monks, being powerless to suppress a rising of the populace,  p29 which took place on the 13th of May 1752, called in Roman soldiers to their aid. A company of Corsicans was despatched to Subiaco, accompanied by a Papal Commissioner. When this functionary discovered what lay at the root of the evil, Pope Benedict XIV determined to deprive the Benedictines of their feudal rights. A Pope bearing St. Benedict's name had the courage to abolish these; not only did he nullify one of the oldest spiritual principalities in the world, but Benedict went out of his way reforming still more abuses — a course which his luckless successor pursued also. On the 7th of November 1753 the secular jurisdiction of the Cardinal-Abbots of Subiaco was abrogated, at once and for ever. They were allowed to keep certain titles and revenues, which, for the most part, survive to this day (1855), and which are indeed sufficiently oppressive. The temporal power was relegated to the State, to be administered by a judge and a governor, called the Sacra Consulta. The office of Cardinal-Commendatore remained purely a spiritual one. The first person who was invested with it in its new form was Giovanni Battista Banchieri.

So ended the mediaeval constitution of this celebrated Monastery. Thereafter its history  p30 lost much of its charm. Nevertheless one of the new Cardinal-Commendatori stands out brightly in its records, as having worked beneficently, in the spirit of the later times, for the welfare of this small monarchy. This was Pius VI, Braschi, appointed Abbot in 1773; he continued, after being raised to the Papal throne, to fill Subiaco with benefactions. Besides building the church in the town, also a great seminary, renovating the palace, and carrying out other works, his best title to the gratitude of the district consists in that excellent high-road by the side of the Anio which he made between Subiaco and Tivoli. For this great work the citizens of Subiaco raised a triumphal arch in his honour. It is a reproduction of the arch of Titus in Rome, and still embellishes the place which Pius VI raised to the dignity of a town. When he made his entry into Subiaco, in 1789, he passed beneath this arch.

Soon after that date the Franco-Roman Republic destroyed many of the existing monuments of the town, when they ravaged the Monastery. It was finally restored, however, by Pope Pius VII. Since then all its conditions have remained as they were established in 1753. The Cardinal-Abbot enjoys one of  p31 the best benefices of the Church of Rome. The monks, no longer the lords of castles and of vassals, still enjoy the revenues of many farms and communes. Their patrimony, rich in oil and wine, reaches to the foot of the Volscian mountains. The net proceeds of their yearly tithes are estimated at from 8000 to 10,000 scudi. The Abbacy itself contains more than 21,000 inhabitants, distributed over sixteen different localities: Subiaco, Trevi, Jenna,º Cervara, Camerata, Marano, Agosta, Rocca di Canterano, Canterano, Rocca di Mezzo, Cerreto, Rocca di Santo Stefano, Civitella, Rojate, Afile, and Ponza. Two of these, Trevi and Afile, are ancient Roman colonies.

From the summit of the Serra mountains, which divide the ravine of the Anio from the broad Latian valley of the Sacco, we can survey all this Subiaco district, and the mountain fastnesses through which that turbulent river cleaves its way down to the Campagna. Its towns, all except Subiaco, which is niched into a rocky gorge, stand out boldly on spurs of the mountains, grey and weather-worn as the limestone crags on which they are built. Their strange architecture, their lonely position in that romantic wilderness, the peculiar costumes and dialects of their inhabitants, give a remarkable  p32 interest to this whole district. But the poverty of these poor mountaineers is appalling. Their food, often solely confined to the worst kind of maize bread, is even more meagre than that of the beasts of the field — for them, indeed, nature has provided plenti­fully. No, never, not in all Italy, have I met with such misery as here. You must go into their forlorn stone huts, or watch the poor people themselves as they till the ground singing their mournful ritornelle, or meet them bearing burdens over their rocky hills heavier than those the mules are laden with, to know how to pity them. In their rags, in their pale fever-stricken faces, you can read more plainly than in any chronicle the story of the feudal rule of the monks and of the barons.

Some account of the noteworthy buildings at Subiaco, on which the eye falls when turned away from the wretchedness of the population, may be more revivifying than is the municipal history of this old Monastery. For whilst the vassal starved, the monk, for whom he had to labour compulsorily, lived, well‑fed, and at his ease, and was adorning his Abbey with artistic works, and with pictures, fruits of the genius of long-past ages, which, we must confess, were much too good for him.

 p33  There are two Monasteries at Subiaco, both under the same Abbot and the same ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The lower one bears the name of Santa Scolastica; the higher one is called the Sacro Speco, or sacred grotto. Both lie high up above the town, on ledges of the precipitous declivities of the mountain, and on the right bank of the Anio. The first, and oldest, is a fanci­ful and picturesque pile of buildings, above which still rises Abbot Humbert's square tower.

Its mixed Gothic and Romanesque architecture, as displayed more especially in its windows and niches, proves it to have been built at different periods; yet but few remains of the oldest period now survive, and these are chiefly to be seen in the courts or quadrangles, for the Abbey has been frequently renewed, and the present church is a building of the last century. The façade of the convent is of that date also, while the second or inner quadrangle, with its Roman arches and pilasters, is of the seventeenth century. Modern pictures, in bad condition and in mediocre taste, record the history of the Monastery and people the walls with the life-sized figures of the Popes and Princes who have visited the place. Amongst the latter we find those of the  p34 Emperor Otho and the Empress Agnes. There are inscriptions, also, recording the names of all those territories once owned by the Abbey.

From this we enter a little intermediate court: just in front of the principal doorway — which is remarkable for containing a specimen of Gothic architecture — is a great arch, decorated with multitudes of small figures and scrolls. Here I also found the oldest monument which Santa Scolastica possesses, a rude marble alto rilievoh dating from the year 981 — in the reign of the German Emperor Otho — the time of Rome's deepest barbarism. It is a marble cube, a foot high and a foot square, and it contains this curious design, one which is found elsewhere, with slight variations. A vase, set on a stem, like a flower on a plant, with two long-eared creatures stretching up to drink out of it, one at each side. So enigmatical is their aspect that whether they are wolves or stags, foxes or dogs, I could not decide.​i On the back of one is a bird, which pecks at him.

[image ALT: A photograph of an ancient relief sculpture carefully described in the text.]

photograph from Vincenzo Federici,
I Monasteri di Subiaco (Rome 1904), II.392

The block is encircled with rough designs wrought in the marble. The body of one of the beasts bears an inscription to the effect that Benedict VII had consecrated this church, built in the year 981, during his pontificate.​j

 p35  Above this relief is a defaced inscription, the first words of which are illegible. Beside the portal is that inscription of the age of Leo IX which I have already mentioned.

The church contains nothing ancient, though its earliest buildings were consecrated by Benedict VII. Turning out of it to the left, you enter a curious old cloister, its four sides enclosing a fountain. This resembles some of those old Roman cloisters whose circular arches are supported by double columns. It is of the early thirteenth century, a monument alike of the great Abbot Lando and the famous Cosma family, who decorated Rome with so many beauti­ful mosaics and pavements. Above its central doorway the hexameters​k say: —

"Cosmus et Filii Lucas et Jacobus alter

Romani Cives in Marmoris arte periti

Hoc opus explerunt Abbatis Tempore Landi."

These worthy maestri were more success­ful in their monuments and tabernacles than in this particular erection, which has none of the beauti­ful proportions of the cloisters of St. Paul's Without the Walls, in Rome. The columns (two twisted ones between two plain ones) are inartistic and rude, their capitals faulty, resembling wooden beams, and decorated  p36 neither by mosaic work nor by sculpture. Art would scarcely seem to have felt herself at home in the Campagna. These are the most noticeable specimens of work in this Abbey — a barren survival of so long and precious a past, and yet to be explained by the frequent devastations which fell upon Subiaco. The Monastery is roomy, with many corridors, cells, reception halls, and rooms for divers purposes, some of them quite new. With a longing eye did I survey the library, with all its hidden-away archives concerning this ancient Benedictine Abbey. Those neatly arranged shelves contain priceless treasures in their records of the Latium of the Middle Ages. A few are open and accessible, many quite inaccessible; even the magic wand of Muratori did not suffice to disinter their mines of wealth. The Regestum Insigne Veterum Monumentorum Monasticorum Scolasticae is of great value. It is a collection of parchment documents, dating from the ninth century. Older decrees do not exist in all Christendom. None of the chronicles of Subiaco have been printed save one, and it only dates from 1390. It was edited by Muratori, who was inhibited from printing the following one, compiled by a German in 1629, under the following title: Chronicon Sublacense P. D. Cherubini Mirtii  p37 Trevirensis Anno Dni 1629.​3 The monks granted me a sight of this work. It is more fascinating than the older, and also not printed, compilation of Guglielmo Capisacchi of Narni, of the year 1573. In no respect is this an extraordinary work. It is only a compilation without any ancient authorities being adduced or old documents named in it. The history of the Abbey lies buried in those archives. Canon Janielli has recently described some of them, but his work is of very little literary value. In 1833 a MS. fell into my hands at Subiaco which contained a fairly good history of the place. The author was Livio Mariani of Subiaco, who died a short time ago in Greece. He had studied the old chronicles exhaustively, and also utilised many other documents. His work extends to 492 pages and exists in only one exemplar. It is written in a liberal spirit, and I have to thank the writer for most of the information I have to give to my readers.

The library is small, but remarkable for possessing those old incunabula. I took the venerable and well-printed folios of a compatriot, a young German monk, into my hands with joy. At the end of Lactantius these words are added: "Lactantii  p38 Firmiani de divinis institutionibus adversus gentes libri septem, nec non eiusdem ad Donatum de ira Dei liber unus, una cum libro de opificio hois ad Demetrianum finiunt. Sub anno Dni McCCCLXV pontificatus Pauli Papae, anno eius secundo. Indictione XIII die vero antepenultima mensis Octobris. In venerabili monasterio Sublacensi. Deo gratias." A homely jubilation on the part of those excellent printers of books, who, out of modesty, do not so much as mention their own names. It reminds me of the good old saying with which Greek and Latin writers of the Middle Ages were wont to crown their labours when ending their works: —

"ὥσπερ ξένοι χαίρουσι πατρίδα βλέπειν

οὕτως καὶ οἱ γράφοντες τέλος βιβλίου."l

Santa Scolastica has now (1856) a community numbering seventy brothers, many of whom are Germans. The present Abbot has strenuously reformed the discipline of the monks, and it is said that they live at small cost in these days. Nevertheless, when I looked into the handsome, lofty kitchen, with its vaulted roof, it was filled with a delightful Homeric odour of rich meat. This did not savour at all of the Pythagorean rule of St. Benedict, which forbade the eating of animal food.​m

And now we climbed up to that curious shrine  p39 of the Benedictine Order, that second little Monastery, which was built over Benedict's cave, in the middle of the eleventh century, and, from it, is named the Sacro Speco. The monks of Monte Cassino made the road leading above the rocks to this grotto in 1688. It is a stiff climb, but rich in enchanting prospects. Clambering up by the river, which thunders in its rocky bed far below, you look down upon Subiaco and its beauti­ful valley, on the wild gorge of the Anio, and far away, seeming to close in the landscape, rises the little hill-town of Jenne, the birthplace of Alexander IV, and of Abbot Lando, one of the Counts of Segni. Just in front of the grotto we enter that dark and shady oak‑wood, which may perhaps have taken possession of the Anchorite's imagination in the first instance, as it reminds the modern visitor of those sacred groves of the Ancients which were always found in the vicinity of the temples dedicated to their mysteries and to their gods.

This little collection of edifices, and the church built, bit by bit, over the grotto, and perched on the dizzy crest of a wall of rock, present a strange mixture of many different styles of architecture. Even the outer walls are partially decorated with frescoes. We crossed a covered bridge, which had been used as a drawbridge in the Middle  p40 Ages, and from it entered a long gallery, leading to the interior of the building, which is adorned with portraits, of early date, of the Evangelists. On one of the walls are these good distichs: —

"Lumina si quaeris Benedicte quid elegis antra

Quaesiti servant luminis antra nihil.

Sed perge in tenebris radiorum quaerere lucem

Nonnisi ab obscura sidera nocte micant."n

Underneath is: —

"D. O. M. Ordinis S. Benedicti occidentalium monachorum patriarchae cunabula."o

[Link to a page in German]
Ch. 55
In good sooth, when I emerged from that gallery and entered the first church, I could have fancied myself plunged again into the mysterious life of those strange and memorable times. I found myself suddenly in a tiny Cathedral, of charming Gothic architecture; on its walls and roofs a bewilderment of gay, though already darkening, frescoes shimmered all around me. Unseen monks were chanting vespers, their deep bass voices resounding solemnly in measured cadence through the twilight of the darkening church, while the pauses in their litanies were filled in by the hoarse croaking of ravens. Three ravens are always nourished here in memory of St. Benedict  p41 — the traditional number of these living symbols of the saint is never exceeded.

It is difficult to describe this place, so famous for its frescoes. The small chapels and shrines are numerous and labyrinthine, as they have had to accommodate themselves to the natural formation of the cavern. They are partly within, partly outside it. The bare, natural rock is sometimes exposed, sometimes built in with structures which rest against it. As you descend by flights of steps from one church to another, you fancy yourself in some most strange catacomb underneath the mountain, all overlaid with colours and glimmering with altar candles. You see no scrap of wall which is not covered with paintings of Benedict's Monastery, of scenes from the lives of the saints, or of symbolic subjects.

The history of Monasticism has its heroic epoch, somewhat resembling that of those fabulous days of romance, be abounding in strange adventures, and Benedict is its exemplar. This realm of pictorial incident unfolds itself to us not in the guise of martyrdoms, of holy men battling with the heathen for Christianity, but it is pervaded by a kind of gentle, fantastic spirit, remarkable and all the more attractive from the age it deals with, and from the classic ground on which we find it. I discovered more poetry in the miracles of Benedict  p42 as here recorded than in those of most of the saints. The love which united the brother and sister tended to soften the egoism of a life cut off from the world of men. It comes out very beauti­fully in these representations of their adventures together — of their lonely lives and their wanderings over these mountains. Old heathen temples were converted into Christian churches, and noble youths attached themselves to Benedict. Such were Placidus, the apostle of Sicily, and Maurus, the apostle of France, who led the monks' imagination away from that narrow wilderness in which they dwelt to famous and historic lands, far from Subiaco. The life of Benedict lends itself to pictorial treatment, and this great romance of the monastic system, which is analogous to the poems about the Grail and Titurel, has its classical embodiment at Subiaco.

In the whole of Latium there is no collection of paintings comparable to these, if, perhaps, we except those in the crypt of the cathedral at Anagni. These frescoes are of value to the student of art because they belong to so many different styles — to the severe early Byzantine period, to that of Cimabue and of Giotto, as well as to the later methods of the artists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I will only choose out a few of them now for description.

 p43  The first small church was, according to an existing inscription, built by Abbot John V in 1116, and adorned with frescoes by Abbot John VI in 1220. These cover, in the most literal sense, its walls. Though they are hard, and their drawing unskilful, they display a charmingly fresh quality — a naïve, epic, homely strength; these old painters might be called the chroniclers of art, if such an expression is permissible. To the right and left many scenes of the life of Christ are represented, amongst them His entry into Jerusalem, a picture composed of many groups of figures, His passion, and the events after His crucifixion. They have grown rather black, but are happily much less injured by restoration than are those which relate to Benedict. Among the latter, there is one of the saint when he is writhing in the thorns to shun the too enticing apparition of a beauti­ful woman. In another, Benedict is seated in his grotto writing the rules for his Order, and reading this old Leonine tetrastich: —

"Hic mons est pinguis, multis claruit signis,

A Domino missus sanctus fuit Benedictus

Mansit in cripta, fuit hic nova regula scripta.

Quisquis amas Christum talem sortiri magistrum."p

 p44  A little tribune, formed by the bare vault of the natural rock itself, terminates the first church. Standing before it, you see at the end of the nave three pointed arches resting on the most exquisite pillars — like triumphal arches — the portraits of Benedict's father and mother, Probus and Abundantia, filling their lunettes. Behind these stands a small altar with a tabernacle over it, the only specimens of the so‑called Alexandrine work which I found in this Monastery, for here mosaic has been crowded out, in contradistinction to the custom of that age, by fresco painting.

A succession of very tiny chapels conducts us to the interior. These chapels form a short and narrow gallery, like the transept of a church. Here also all the walls are covered with paintings; but alas! a short time ago so remorselessly renovated that they stand out all too glaringly. Such are the single figures of angels, small compositions, Benedict and his sister sitting together at meat, the death of the saint, the deaths of Placidus and Maurus. I found an ancient sarcophagus of a child here, bordered with graceful reliefs of birds: it had been placed on a small pillar to serve for a basin.

A stair leads to the especially remarkable under, or middle, church. Here again all the walls are covered with frescoes. A few inscriptions  p45 give us the names of their painters, or the dates at which they were painted. We read in Gothic characters "magister Conxolus pinxit hoc opus," then again "Stamatico Greco pictor perfecit. A.D. MCCCCLXXXIX." Conxolus worked in the beginning of the thirteenth century, earlier than Cimabue, and before the Italian methods had softened the severity of the typical Byzantine style. He, it may be, was the master who decorated the vestibule of St. Lorenzo, outside the walls of Rome, with a series of frescoes for Honorius III, which bear a strong resemblance to these, and are of a similar date. The frescoes in the Sacro Speco are mostly by him, and, though Greek in character, they never have its severity or hardness. Amongst them are quite admirable figures, noble forms, with a simplicity and dignity in the draping of the garments which shows how the artist strove to attain to the excellence of the antique. At all events this old painter, whose name (from κομψός?) seems to point to a Greek origin, was of distinction, and he may have painted when his contemporaries of kindred name, κοσμήτης,​4 were chipping their marbles in Rome, in Subiaco, and in the crypt of the cathedral at Anagni.

In the lower church subjects of various kinds  p46 are represented; most of these refer to the history of the Abbey. At the foot of the steps, we see Innocent IV handing a diploma to Abbot John IV, and Gregory I presenting the famous charter to Abbot Honoratus. Many of the pictures here relate to the life of Benedict. One, where we see him with his nurse, is especially distinguished by the charming figure of the woman and the admirable draping of her garments. Another presents to us a most original conception of Death. Benedict is lying on his couch, the black cowl covers his head, out of his lips streams a beam of light which is bearing away his soul; this is typified by a tiny naked doll. A winged angel stands waiting to receive and bear it away in his hands. This angel has a good expression, with a severe Greek profile, and half-closed almond-shaped eyes. The soft droop of the head — a characteristic of graciousness long before Giotto's day — reminded me vividly of the best of the catacomb pictures. This remarkable work of art is left, happily unrestored, in its brown neutral tints. There are many resembling it in the childlike simplicity of their methods, but I must pass them by. They are not all by the same artist, for some are undoubtedly of the eleventh century and retain all the worst peculiarities of the  p47 Byzantine school. Such are the colossal roof-pictures of apostles and saints, in glaring contrast to the frescoes on the walls, and these too have been mercilessly "refreshed" in the most inartistic manner.

This middle church contains the grotto of Benedict. It reminded me of the grotto of Santa Rosalia on Monte Pellegrino, near Palermo. Behind a richly ornamented altar the figure of the youthful saint is kneeling in prayer before the cross; it is but a mediocre work of the Bernini school, yet is enhanced by the dim light of the cavern.

But truly everything in this grotto has a theatrical, unreal effect. It is unlike anything else I have ever seen, so small, so fine, so gay and glittering; chapels and grottoes appear like glimmering phantasmagoria. It is curiously different from any other sacred shrine I have ever discovered. It is like an illuminated picture-book of legendary poetry, as bloodless and painless as the lives were of those pious Anchorites who lived in the wilderness, amongst the birds of the air and the wild creatures of the fields — religion presenting itself as a fairy tale, at least so it appeared to me. This is apart from the general character of the Monastery, and it is therefore the more remarkable, perhaps it is unique, of its  p48 kind. Nothing here attunes the spirit to solemn thought; not once in that sacred grotto, could the most devout Roman Catholic feel himself penetrated by devotional fervour. The artist who had thought to produce it by some of the sadder pictures was mistaken as to their solemnising effect on the beholder. The charming, fantastic unreality of it all would appear to even mock at such emotions.

I noted two frescoes, placed opposite each other on the walls of the narrow passage at the bottom of the last flight of steps which conducted me down to the lowest church. They represent the Triumph of Death, according to Petrarch's well-known description of it in his Canzoni. Death, riding on a horse over dead bodies, smites down with his naked sword a youth who stands conversing with a companion. On the other wall three open coffins are depicted. In one lies the body of a young woman just dead, in the next her corpse when it had become a loathsome sight, and the third contains only her dry bones. An old man is pointing out these three degrees of bodily decay to three beauti­ful youths, reading a lesson to them, while they stand by, in their splendid attire, with hawks on their wrists, contemplating these sights sorrow­fully. The painter of this striking picture is  p49 unknown; he appears to have been coeval with Ghirlandajo — it has, alas! suffered woefully. The Slaughter of the Innocents, which is at the top of these steps, may perhaps be attributed to the same artist. I have never seen this gruesome subject so finely handled before, nor with so much delicate artistic feeling. It has been a favourite with artists during every period of Christian art, and when we recall the merciless butchering depicted, for instance, in the tapestries at the Vatican, we can value the better perception of this old master, who knew that in order to touch one's feelings the inhuman should only be forecast, or dreaded, not absolutely portrayed. The picture is rather small. I discovered two very curious and original conceptions amongst many there. One is of St. Stephen, who was stoned to death, and either the painter or his restorer has been so filled with anxiety to make this clear that he has not only introduced real stones into his canvas, but has sent one by a hard blow right through the nimbus of the saint. The other is of St. Lawrence, a graceful youthful figure, clad in his deacon's gown, and holding a palm in his right hand, a book in his left, standing upright on the gridiron.

I will only add that from the chapel I have  p50 described we descended into the last, very tiny, grotto. They tell you that here Benedict himself taught his acolytes to write. Its walls are covered with stucco, which bears traces of some very ancient paintings.

These are the principal and most remarkable objects of interest in this Monastery. We must not, though, neglect to look out from the upper quadrangle, for from this spot we get the best view of the gigantic precipice against the face of which all these shrines are built. It falls down vertically to this platform, as if to destroy the Abbey; but the statue of St. Benedict is standing here with uplifted arm, and he exclaims in a warning voice: "Ferma, O rupe! non danneggiarefigli miei!"​q

I saw three ravens crouching at the feet of this statue and croaking dismally. These mysterious birds, in their black Benedictine cowls, with their raucous voices, seemed to me the fitting attendants upon the saint.​5 Just as in the ancient mythologies each god or goddess has a symbolic bird, the ravens play a part frequently in the story of Benedict's life. I have already said that they accompanied him when he departed from Subiaco, and wandered  p51 away to Monte Cassino. The reader must know that they had previously saved the saint's life. For it came to pass that an enemy had once sent a poisoned loaf to Benedict, and this they straightway took up in their beaks, and carried off to a desert place amongst the rocks. The mountain raven seems to me to be an excellent monkish attribute, much better than the dog with a torch in his mouth, which the Dominicans have chosen as their symbol.

There is another sacred spot which brings to mind old memories and a great name. Of this I thought when I saw Subiaco. There is also a garden of roses, which once were thorns, close to a shrine. In those thorns another saint once plunged his naked body.

When the celebrated founder of the Franciscan Order​6 visited Subiaco in 1223, he budded roses on those thorns, whose descendants bloom bravely to this day. In the course of time these Subiaco roses have developed some miraculous properties. A monk told me seriously that when dead and reduced to powder, they would cure all manner of diseases if taken internally. Whether they also possess the valuable peculiarities of the roses of Apuleiusr this excellent monk did not divulge, so it must rest an open question.

The Author's Notes:

1 The author evidently means Roman (or German?) miles. (Translator's note.)

Thayer's Note: Roberts actually has, as noted, "four and twenty" rather than Gregorovius' "Vierundvierzig" (forty‑four).

We may still learn something by measuring out the distances. The straight-line distance from the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome to Subiaco, according to Google Maps, is about 51 km = 31½ English miles; a road distance, according to this Google Maps Pedometer, is about 66 km = 41 English miles.

In round figures, an ancient Roman mile is 1480 meters and an English mile is 1610 meters, about a 10% difference. The distances above work out to 34½ Roman miles straight-line and 44½ by road.

The German miles in use when Gregorovius wrote were much larger units, varying from place to place but on the order of 7½ to 8 km. The distances above thus work out to roughly 7 German miles straight-line and 9 by road.

We can conclude: (a) that we will need to be on our guard and check Roberts' distances and other numbers against the German text; (b) that Gregorovius, when he uses miles (with one exception, where he specifies the German mile), means a unit in the range of the Roman mile, which our English mile approximates.

2 The above was written in the year 1856. (Translator's note.)

3 The earliest existing specimens of printing are so named. (Translator's note.)

4 The maîtres mosaïstes?

Thayer's Note: This clueless note, though not so marked, is also by the translator. Yes, the Cosmati family, masters in their own special kind of mosaic: for the connection between their work and their name, see my little page on the Cosmatesque floor of S. Maria in Cosmedin, which also happens to be illustrated with a few photographs of that work.

5 This bird is probably our hooded crow. (Translator's note.)

6 St. Francis of Assisi. (Translator's note.)

Thayer's Notes:

a The visually indispensable accompaniment to Gregorovius' account is Roberto Piperno's site on the two monasteries and the town of Subiaco: three webpages of informative text with 55 equally good photos.

b Cantalupo (in full, Cantalupo in Sabina to distinguish it from others in Italy — the name, meaning "wolf howl", is common enough is quiet patches of countryside) is indeed a little town in the general area, but that doesn't answer to the narrow focus of Gregorovius' paragraph, listing places very near Subiaco and following the course of the Anio. A map makes that quite clear: with respect to Subiaco, Cantalupo is a distant outlier. I've been unable to find any other Cantalupo near Subiaco, but I do notice further that he lists these little towns E to W, with only the tiniest exceptions; so that "Cantalupo" should be between Roviano and Saracinesco. The place that at first seems to fit best, for both its name and its site, is Cineto Romano; hunting a bit more in depth, I find a large property by the name of Villa Cantalupo localized by GoogleMaps at Colle Cappellino, which seems to be, however, a recent hamlet. Still, neither of these places convinces me.

c There is much to comment in this innocent-seeming passage.

First of all, Roberts has Sublaquum rather than the traditional and almost certainly better Sublaqueum. I've left it for two reasons:

1. If the place owes its name to sub lacu — correct Latin for "below the lake", one would expect Sublaquum rather than Sublaqueum with an intrusive extra e.

2. The derivation of the placename is not in the edition of the Wanderjahre that was once online. I doubt very much whether Roberts added it out of thin air; I suspect Gregorovius gave it in an early edition, but removed it later, because . . .

. . . the derivation is probably a folk-etymology, even if a very old one:

1. If there were three lakes or ponds, one would expect sub lacubus in the plural; it's getting harder and harder to derive Sublaqueum from that.

2. Gregorovius points out that the lakes have vanished. Aha, they were artificial ponds constructed by Nero for raising fish, which he caught with golden nets: in the online edition, although excising the derivation of the placename, he continues to write that according to Pliny, Nero's villa was there, lakes, fish, golden net. Pliny, however, says nothing of the sort: he mentions Subiaco only once (III.109) and in that passage there's no hint that the lakes might be artificial, nor one word about Nero, fish, or golden nets: that last trio comes from a different writer altogether, Suetonius, who in his Life of Nero, xxx.3 merely says that, among Nero's extravagances, he would fish with a golden net drawn by cords woven of purple and scarlet threads: in turn, no mention of Subiaco or any other particular place — nor of artificial fish ponds, even if plausible since such ponds were common among the Romans (for exhaustive citations of the ancient authors, see Mair's note on Oppian, Hal. I.64; and several have been found, notably and most germanely Tiberius' famous circular pond near Sperlonga, for which see this good page with several photographs).

Getting back to Pliny, though, and I might as well quote the Latin text in full —

at ex alia parte Anio, in monte Trebanorum ortus, lacus tris amoenitate nobiles, qui nomen dedere Sublaqueo, defert in Tiberim.

but from another direction the Anio, rising in the mountain of the Trebani, drains three lakes renowned for their beauty, which gave their name to Sublaqueum, into the Tiber.

(My own translation, by the way, since the commonly available Loeb translation that you might be tempted to refer to is error-ridden:

In another direction the Teverone rising in Mount Trevi drains into the Tiber three lakes famous for their beauty, from which Subiaco takes its name.

There is no "Mount Trevi", nor is there a Teverone river anywhere near here: the Loeb translator obviously found in a dictionary that Trebanus = "from Trevi", and found the Teverone or its constituent streams rising in the mountains near Trevi, which they do: alas, that's the wrong Trevi! the much larger Trevi in Umbria. The place involved here, and thru which the Anio flows under the modern name of Aniene, is the very small village of Trevi nel Lazio, many miles away.)

— we can retain that Pliny, who survived Nero by ten years, thought that the Anio drained three well-known lakes, and that he etymologized Sublaqueum, or reports a common derivation of the name, as sub lac‑. If the lakes have vanished, that part, at least, is altogether credible: the mountainous spine of central Italy is constantly being hit by earthquakes, one of the main effects of which is to rearrange watercourses and create or drain lakes.

That Nero had a villa at or near today's Subiaco comes to us from two different sources altogether: Tacitus, Annals, XIV.22.2, "on the confines of Tibur" and associated with "Simbruine lakes", although it isn't explicitly stated that the villa was Nero's; and — the most important reference — Frontinus, de Aquis II.93, "the lake lying above the Sublacensian Villa of Nero, at the point where the Anio is the clearest". Neither author writes that the lakes were in any way artificial. A large amount of water from this general area was brought to Rome by two aqueducts, although the inscriptions found mention springs rather than lakes: some details are given by Platner in the articles Aqua Claudia and Aqua Marcia of A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome; see also the article Anio Novus and the literature cited there; and the emended passage in Frontinus, de Aquis I.7.

d Gregorovius does not actually write that this first document is apocryphal.

e The edition of Gregorovius that was once online does not mention Nero's villa. It reads (my translation tending, as always, to the literal):

. . . especially Benedict's grotto, and the two lakes that existed at the time; the river Anio, with its mill and fishing rights; and 24 castles or places in the Anio area.

f Roberts has "Tomasso", and the edition of Gregorovius that was once online has "Tomasco". I correct to "Tommaso", but with some diffidence. The reader must not, at any rate, confuse this person with the celebrated Franciscan author Tommaso da Celano, who lived more than a century earlier.

g A careless translation; the main mistake is that only one hill is involved. Gregorovius wrote — my translation —

When the sun rose, the people saw all fifteen of those unfortunates hanging from the gallows. The hill where this happened is called today "Colle delle forche".

h The words alto rilievo are not in Gregorovius, who simply calls the stone a Marmorrelief — a marble relief. For my part, I would not characterize it as an altorilievo (high-relief), but as a bassorilievo (bas-relief).

i A surprising blind spot on Gregorovius' part: two deer — antlers, not long ears — drinking from the water of life is a fairly common and very old iconographical motif which he had surely seen elsewhere. It is traditionally said to be derived from Psalm 42(41):1. These drinking deer, usually in facing pairs, can be seen in the apsidal mosaics of the Lateran and S. Clemente in Rome among other Italian churches, as well as in paleochristian mosaics in North Africa; they drink either from a chalice as here, or from running water.

A slightly different opinion is that of P. Egidi, I monasteri Sublacensi, I.57 ff. as reported by Vincenzo Federici, I Monasteri di Subiaco II.393: that we have a stag and a unicorn — since the animal to the viewer's left only seems to show one horn, no doubt.

j The edition of Gregorovius online transcribes the inscription, which we can more or less make out in the photograph:

edificatio huius ecle sce Scolastice tempore Domni Benedicti VII. PP ab ipso ppa dedicata q. d. s. an ab incarnatione Dni CCCCC CCCCLXXXI m. Decb. d. IIII. indictione VIII.

There may well be a few lines in their proper places over the abbreviations, but I can't make them out from the photograph; at any rate, expanding the abbreviations and translating:

✠ Edificatio huius ecclesiae sanctae Scolasticae tempore Domini Benedicti VII Papae ab ipso papa dedicata qui dicitur supra anno ab incarnatione Domini CCCCC CCCCLXXXI mense Decembris die IIII indictione VIII.

The construction of this church of St. Scolastica in the time of His Lordship Pope Benedict VII, was dedicated by the above-mentioned Pope in person, in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 981, on the 4th day of the month of December, in the 8th indiction.

If you are a student just learning your way around medieval inscriptions, notice the different abbreviations of Domini: while not a hard and fast rule, in the genitive at least, DNI is mostly reserved for the Lord (God), and Domni refers to a human lord. They are essentially different words, accounting for my diverging translations of them. You might also notice that the inscription does not strictly say that the church was built in 981.

k Not a single hexameter, of course, but three hexameters (the mistake is the translator's); and not very good ones either, since lines 1 and 3 don't scan:

Cōsmŭs | ēt fīlĭ | ī Lū | cās ēt | Jācŏbŭs | ālter

Rōmā | nī cī | vēs īn | mārmŏrĭs | ārtĕ pĕ | rīti

Hōc ōpŭs | ēxplē | rūnt āb | bātīs | tēmpŏrĕ | Lāndi

The scansion would be improved a bit if it read Cōsmās, but Cosmus is what Gregorovius himself has. I haven't seen the inscription.

l "Like foreigners who rejoice at the sight once again of their homeland, So writers when they reach the end of the book." Often seen in the fuller form, Ὥσπερ ξένοι χαίρουσιν ἰδεῖν πατρίδα καὶ οἱ θαλαττεύοντες εὑρεῖν λιμένα οὕτως καὶ οἱ γράφοντες ἰδεῖν βιβλίου τέλος — "Like foreigners who rejoice at the sight once again of their homeland, and those who sail the seas on reaching port . . ." My exact feelings too, when I finally reach the end of one of these transcriptions: Nihil novi sub sole.

m Not quite. The Rule forbids eating the meat only of quadrupeds (XXXIX.11). The slip is in Gregorovius' original text.

n "If light is what you seek, Benedict, why are you choosing caves? Caves are useless for the light you seek. Do continue, though, to seek the light midst the rays of darkness: only from the dark of night do the stars shine out."

o "To God the Best and Greatest. The cradle of the Order of St. Benedict, patriarch of the monks of the West."

p My own very literal translation, with no pretence to literary merit:

This mountain is fat, it was made to shine by many signs.

Sent by God, holy was Benedict:

He stayed in a cave, it was here that the new Rule was written.

Whoever you be that love Christ, choose such a master.

The curious phrase "Hic mons est pinguis", "This mountain is fat (or: rich)", which in the online edition of Gregorovius is translated into German as behaglich = "cozy" or "comfortable", is from the Vulgate translation of Psalm 67(68):16. The original Hebrew verse must be very difficult to translate, since the various Bibles characterize the mountain as "fat", "high", "many-peaked", or, the most frequent in my quick survey, "of God". The overall allusion of the verse is of course to Moses bringing the Law down from Sinai: so did Benedict bring the Rule from the mountain at Subiaco.

q "Stop, O cliff! Do not harm my children!" A photo of this statue and its inscription can be found here.

r A reference to Apuleius' The Golden Ass, in which the hero is turned into a donkey and must eat a rose to regain his human form. He eventually does so, by munching on the crown of roses of the Queen of Heaven held by a priest in a religious procession: Isis of course, not Mary — and our ever anticlerical, anti-Catholic Gregorovius apparently couldn't resist this obnoxious parting barb.

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Page updated: 15 Jul 23