The Cathedral

Arte-basilica cattedrale

 

The present-day cathedral of Montecassino is the 4th church to stand on the same very site. It has been built, rebuilt, and expanded on throughout the centuries quite extensively. The current cathedral, rebuilt after its most recent destruction during the Battle of Montecassino in 1944, is reconstructed with some surviving elements according to the cathedral's 17th/18th century design.

St. Benedict, along with dedicated disciples, arrived to Cassino around the year 529 AD. The first church built was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The remains of the pagan temple were transformed into an oratory to St. Martin. Some years after St. Benedict's death in the mid 6th century, the abbey was destroyed by invading Lombards. Surviving monks fled and established themselves outside of Montecassino. Reconstruction began in the early 8th century and a new church was built over the tomb of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. The newly constructed church was consecrated by Pope Zachary in 748 AD. Following another destruction in the 9th century, the church was rebuilt under the abbot Desiderius, who enlisted numerous architects and artists for the project. This church was reborn more magnificent than ever. It was consecrated in 1071 by Pope Alexander II in a grand ceremony with a large crowd of monks, archbishops and bishops, and even royalty present. In 1321 Montecassino's church was designated a "cathedral" by Pope John XXII, an abbot who had became bishop and then Pope in 1316. An earthquake in 1349 left Montecassino and its cathedral in its 3rd state of ruin.

The current design for Montecassino's cathedral came from architect and sculptor Cosimo Fanzago, who started work on the High Altar and presbytery in 1627 before eventually starting construction on the rest of the cathedral in 1649. The astonishingly beautiful new cathedral was consecrated by Pope Benedict XIII in 1727. Built in a cruciform plan, the cathedral is an impressive work of art with extraordinary mosaics, carvings, frescoes, and marble inlay work inside. Eight ornate chapels are located on either side of the central nave area, leading up to the High Altar. Underneath the High Altar is the crypt. Behind the High Altar is the choir, containing incredibly intricate woodcarvings and a large pipe organ. The sacristy, decorated with reconstructed wooden wall paneling, can be found to the left of the High Altar. A large dome, recreated to the dimensions of the original one, soars above the High Altar. Among some of the remarkable elements inside are the tomb of Piero dei Medici, 11th century bronze door, decorated chapels, the sepulcher of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, a large pipe organ, stunning frescoes and mosaics, and several crosses. Though the cathedral was severely damaged during World War II, there are some pieces which survived and are perfectly incorporated into the restored basilica today.