The Abbey of Saint Scholastica, also known as Subiaco Abbey (Italian: Abbazia di Santa Scolastica), is located just outside the town of Subiaco in the Province of Rome, Region of Lazio, Italy; and is still an active Benedictine order, territorial abbey, first founded in the 6th century AD by Saint Benedict of Nursia. It was in one of the Subiaco caves (or grotto) that Benedict made his first hermitage. The monastery today gives its name to the Subiaco Congregation, a grouping of monasteries worldwide that makes up part of the Order of Saint Benedict.
Oldest known portrait in existence of the saint, dating back to St. Francis’ retreat to Subiaco (1223–1224): depicted without the stigmata
In the early 6th century Benedict of Nursia, a man from a well-to-do family who was educated at Rome, retired to a grotto near an ancient Roman Villa in Subiaco, in the mountains of north Latium (Lazio). His reputation as a spiritual guide quickly drew disciples to him there, including many of his old Roman friends, who also settled in the area. Over the years, no fewer than thirteen monastic communities arose around Subiaco, including the one that would come to be named for St. Scholastica, Benedict’s sister and herself a monastic. Eventually, seeking greater solitude, Benedict would retire to Monte Cassino, where the same process would be repeated.
In the ninth century, St. Scholastica’s Abbey was twice destroyed by the Saracens, in 828-829 and 876-877. But it was restored, and grew in the tenth century thanks to the patronage and favour of several popes, many of whom were, in fact, Benedictine monks.
As for monastic establishments throughout Europe, the eleventh and twelfth centuries were a golden age for the abbey, when it boasted vast lands, a large number of monks, and elaborate, ornate liturgy. With economic power came political power as well. In the thirteenth century, a sanctuary was erected over the cave where St. Benedict had dwelt, the Sacro Speco or “Holy Cave”.
Riches also brought covetousness, and the abbey’s prestige brought it enemies. Long power struggles with the feudal establishment weakened the abbey, and decedence set in when Calixtus III made Juan de Torquemada (uncle of the famous inquisitor) commendatory abbot. Subsequently, powerful families tied to the papacy controlled it. Rodrigo Borgia (later the infamous Alexander VI held the commendatory abbacy in 1467. The Colonna (1492), Borghese (1608), and Barberini (1633) families would also gain control of its revenues. Some took their ownership of the abbey seriously and tried to restore it, but most were content to exploit its revenues, sometimes without even ever visiting the monastery. The spiritual well-being of the monks was rarely a concern.
The tide began to turn in 1753, when Benedict XIV decided to remove commendatory abbots’ power over the day-to-day running of their monasteries, leaving them only the spiritual and ecclesiastical dignity. Yet at the end of the century, when the French occupied the Papal States, the abbey was suppressed. Pius VII restored it as soon as he regained his independence. In 1915, Benedict XV accorded it the privilege of a territorial abbey.
The monastic community today is made up of a little over twenty monks, including eleven priest-monks, living in two areas: St. Scholastica’s Abbe y proper (for the majority of the monks), and the Sacro Speco (Holy Cave), the sanctuary to St. Benedict’s hermitage, which can also be visited by pilgrims.
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Subiaco es un municipio de 9.332 habitantes de la provincia de Roma, a 408 msnm en el valle superior del Aniene, a la derecha del río.
El pintoresco burgo medieval, construido con escalinatas sobre una pared rocosa que domina el valle del Aniene, a la salida del río de la boscosa garganta calcárea donde se encuentran los venerados monasterios benedictinos del Sacro Speco y de Santa Scolastica, es el centro de altísimo interés religioso y artístico, no sólo turístico.
Monasterio de San Benedetto.
Los orígenes de la actual abadía benedictina se remontan a los inicios del siglo VI, cuando san Benito de Nursia fundó en la zona monasterios para dar hospitalidad a sus primeros discípulos, provenientes en parte de la nobleza romana. En el siglo XII por iniciativa del abad se construyó el santuario-monasterio del Sacro Speco.
De los trece monasterios fundados por San Benito sólo queda actualmente el de Santa Scolastica, incialmente dedicado a San Silvestre. Este monasterio se articula en torno a tres claustros:
uno estilo cosmati (siglos XII-XIII), de gran armonía;
uno gótico (siglos XIV y XV);
uno del renacimiento tardío (finales del siglo XVI).
El monasterio del Sacro Speco (o de san Benedetto) se presenta hoy como un edificio muy escenográfico y pintoresco, insertado en la curvatura de una inmensa pared de roca.