The Early Years of the Abbey

Storia-primi anni

 

Before St. Benedict arrived to Cassino and established the greatly influential Montecassino on the hilltop above it, this area still had the very visible remains of its ancient past. Cassino is the modern name of the ancient city Casinum, a Volscian town about 87 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Rome. It has been known as "Cassino" since the late 19th century. Archaeological evidence tells us that Casinum had been inhabited by people at least as far back as the 7th century BC. It came under Roman rule in the 3rd century BC and flourished especially during the earlier Imperial period, roughly from the 1st century BC until the 3rd century AD. From this period we can still see the ruins of an impressive ancient amphitheater, smaller theater, and the Cappella del Crocifisso- a Roman mausoleum which was converted into a church in the 10th century. Across the river are some ruins of a villa belonging to Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BC), a Roman scholar noted for his attempts to make an accurate record of ancient Roman history. In the 5th century AD Cassino went into a period of serious decline due to a succession of barbarian invasions, and was left without a bishop until St. Benedict arrived a century after.

St. Benedict came to Cassino around 529 AD, finding some remnants of a once glorious town, whose inhabitants had returned to its pagan roots and still utilized the remains of the ancient temple and altar on the top of the hill for pagan worship and offerings. On the summit, above the ancient town Casinum, there was still the Temple of Jupiter as well as an altar and idols to Apollo and the ancient cyclopean walls and guardian towers. As a first step towards transforming this ancient site into a sacred home, the idols were destroyed and the temple converted into a church dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, and a small oratory built dedicated to St. John the Baptist where the ancient altar to Apollo was. Elements of the Temple of Jupiter as well as the cyclopean wall and guardian tower were incorporated into the design and construction of the monastery, and surviving parts can still be seen today.