We visit Norcia to see the marshes long managed by Benedictine monks. For a dozen centuries or so, the monks coaxed springwaters to spread out across the meadows of Santa Scholastica outside the walls of the city. This method yielded several harvests of hay a year while enhancing habitat for birds, animals, and wild plants.
Agricultural practices — and distribution methods — have changed in Italy and the meadows haven’t been managed much over the past few decades. And even though it is the birthplace of the founder Saint Benedict himself, the Benedictine abbey in Norcia gradually lost its resident monks.
Several years ago, a group of young American Benedictines started a little monastery of their own in an apartment in Rome. They were devoted to keeping the hours of the Rule of Saint Benedict in the traditional way, and to keeping chant alive and authentic.
The bishop of Spoleto heard about them, thought about the empty abbey in Norcia, and invited them to take up residence there. Today they walk the marshes of Santa Scholastica for meditation.
Susan had corresponded with one of the American monks, coincidentally also named Benedict, and he was expecting us. He would introduce us to an employee of Sibellini National Park, who could tell us about the wildlife in the park.
Our morning began with mass in the crypt of the abbey. The celebrant sang and several monks chanted the psalms and responses. Each note was indescribably lovely resonating within those stone walls. The chant created an experience isolated from the flow of time, seemingly a single moment of awareness of the here and now.