NORCIA — “Norcia’s churches are no more,” the subprior of the Benedictine monks of Norcia said today, echoing Rachel’s bitter cry in the Book of Jeremiah (31:15).
“How can I even begin to describe the scene we witnessed yesterday in Norcia?,” Fr. Benedict Nivakoff wrote in the latest earthquake update, one day after a massive 6.6 tremor hit Norcia, destroying the Basilica of St. Benedict.
Tradition holds that the ancient crypt over which the basilica was built is the birthplace of St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism and one of the most influential figures in European civilization and culture.
“It was like those photographs of bombed-out churches from the Second World War,” Fr. Benedict said. “It was an image of devastation. All the churches in Norcia are on the ground. Every single one. The roofs caved in on all of them; they are no more.”
In their update, the monks included a photograph of the Church of the Madonna Addolorata [Our Lady of Sorrows], which has crumbled to the ground.
In the caption of a closeup, Fr. Benedict added: “Notice the still-standing inscription above the door, which bears the words from the Book of Lamentations: Missit ignem in ossibus meis. (He hath sent fire into my bones.)
Norcia is a small Umbrian town settled in the Sibylline Mountains, yet it has a total of 10 churches packed within its walls. Two of the churches which now lay in ruin are pictured below: to the reader’s left, the Church of San Francesco which had a splendid altar piece of the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and directly ahead, the Church of the Dead, a small church dedicated to the souls of the faithful departed.
Here is the full update from Fr. Benedict:
How can I even begin to describe the scene we witnessed yesterday in Norcia?
It was like those photographs of bombed-out churches from the Second World War. It reminded me of all those ruined monasteries one sees passing through the English countryside. It was an image of devastation. All the churches in Norcia are on the ground. Every single one. The roofs caved in on all of them; they are no more. What remains of them are a few corners, a facade, a window with the sun coming through from the wrong side. Inside are “bare ruin’d choirs” as Shakespeare wrote of the destroyed monasteries in his time.
The wonder, the miracle, is that there were no casualties. All the fear and anxiety following the first few earthquakes now seem a providential part of God’s mysterious plan to clear the city of all inhabitants. He spent two months preparing us for the complete destruction of our patron’s church so that when it finally happened we would watch it, in horror but in safety, from atop the town.
Is it over yet? We do not know. These are mysteries which will take years — not days or months — to understand. We watch and pray all together on the mountainside for Norcia and for the world. The priests go into town to visit the sick and the homeless. We are grateful for your prayers, as ever.
“They shall come back”
In the Book of Jeremiah, after Rachel is heard weeping, we hear: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy’ (31:16).”
May the Lord reward the work and prayer of the monks of Norcia as they begin to rebuild.
If you want to help the rebuilding process, you can give to the monks by clicking here.
Read more about Sunday’s 6.6 earthquake, with updates, here.