Monks Pledge Their Church Will Rise Again From The Rubble Of Italy's Latest Earthquake

Saint Anthony church, damaged and surrounded by rubble after the Norcia earthquakeReuters

For centuries, monks and nuns lived their lives of prayer and hospitality in the tradition laid down by St Benedict of Norsia, Italty.

They were suppressed by the French emperor Napoleon 190 years ago and when they returned in 2000, it seemed as if their future was secure.

But now the tradition is under threat once again after the terrible destruction wreaked on their 13th century basilica by the latest earthquake to bring devastation to Italy.

No lives were lost in this tremblor but many were injured, some seriously. 

The monks and nuns have all been evacuated, and just the facade now remains of the much-loved basilica, built over the original home of St Benedict and his twin sister, St Scholastica, and which attracted many thousands of pilgrims each year.

And a £7.5 million appeal has been launched to rebuild the monastery.

Cloistered nuns cast out on the street by the earthquake in NorciaReuters

Norcia Cathedral, which like all the medieval buildings had been weakened by the previous earthquakes in the Umbria region, was also reduced to rubble.

Pope Francis, himself from the Franciscan traditon, prayed for the town and for all those affected by the quake, felt as far away as Rome.

He said: "I express my closeness to the people of central Italy. I pray for the wounded and the families that have suffered major damage."

He also prayed for all those involved in the rescue efforts: "May the Risen Lord give them strength, and the Madonna watch over them."

Pope Francis recently visited the towns affected by the last quake, which was of magnitude 6.2 and in which nearly 300 people were killed. The Norcia event measured 6.5 on the Richter scale, the largest in Italy for decades, and aftershocks are still being felt.

A glimpse of the devastation in NorciaReuters

The nuns, Poor Clares who are cloistered, were evacuated after firefighters broke the doors down to get them out, although their 16th century Santa Maria della Pace monastery was not so badly damaged.

"We thought it was the end of everything," said 74-year-old Sister Maria Raffaella Buoso, recovering on a bench in the town centre. They are being relocated to live with some other nuns in nearby Trevi.

Sister Maria Chiara Vittorie, 73, told Reuters: "They live differently in other cloisters. They don't get up to pray at night. It makes me sad to leave because this is our cloister, our life is here." 

The 13 monks had been evacuated before, after the earlier quakes, and some of them have been living in tents. Their basilica was being repaired and they had hoped to return soon. 

"We have started to accept once more that our life is not our own and God has altered our path once again," wrote one of the monks, Father Benedict, after the latest earthquake.

'We thought it was the end of everything.' The nuns recover on a bench.Reuters

A Just Giving crowdfunding account has been set up in the UK to help the monks, part of a £7.5 million appeal to rebuild the destroyed Benedectine buildings.

The appeal begins with a quotation from an Easter antiphon: "Behold there was a great earthquake!"

The appeal says this refers to the convulsions of the earth at the moment of Christ's resurrection from the dead and the Gospel also mentions an earlier earthquake at the moment of Jesus' death on the cross.

"An earthquake means both death and life: death to what went before, life in new beginnings. Sometimes such a disaster means physical death, as for the 300 people who died in Amatrice and Accumoli, small towns just across the mountains from Norcia. May the angels take them into Paradise.

"In Norcia, thanks be to God, no lives were lost. The monastic buildings were severely damaged and some of the monks have been sleeping in tents, but in this we are like so many of our neighbors."

Monks make a vow of stability, which includes love of the place.

"Just as the resurrection of Christ made all things new, so this earthquake presents the monastery with new opportunities to strengthen our monastic foundations and build more securely for the future."

St Benedict Basilica in Norcia, photographed in AugustReuters

Additional reporting by Reuters.