Religious life turned upside down by Italian earthquake
"We have started to accept once more that our life is not our own and God has altered our path once again," wrote a local monkBy Isla Binnie
NORCIA, Italy, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Sunday's earthquake struck the medieval walled town of Norcia as nuns, monks and priests were heading to morning prayer services, giving them just enough time to flee as the walls around them plunged to the earth.
The quake hit the same central regions that have been rocked by repeated tremors over the past two months. Although it was bigger than an Aug. 24 earthquake that killed almost 300 people, no-one died on Sunday, but there was huge damage.
Weakened by repeated powerful jolts in recent weeks, many of Norcia's churches, monasteries and chapels were wrecked.
"We thought it was the end of everything," said 74-year-old Sister Maria Raffaella Buoso, sitting on a bench outside the walls of Norcia after being evacuated from the Monastery of the Poor Clares of Santa Maria della Pace.
The nuns of the Poor Clares are normally cloistered and only leave the monastery in an emergency. Firemen had to break the doors down to get them out.
The six nuns have been ordered to leave for now, although they are confident that their church, which was built at the beginning of the 16th century, did not suffer extensive damage.
Other places were less fortunate, including the historic Basilica of St. Benedict, which stood on the main square of Norcia and was supposedly built over the birthplace of Benedict, the patron saint of Europe, and his sister St. Scolastica.
Badly damaged in multiple quakes on Aug. 24 and Oct. 26, the monastery complex, including the 13th century Basilica, finally collapsed in a pile of rubble on Sunday, leaving just the gothic facade standing.
The 13 monks had been forced to abandon their monastery and their small commercial brewery following the previous tremors. However, they had hoped for a swift return, with the Italian emergency services releasing video earlier this week showing roof repairs being carried out on the imposing Basilica.
Although Norcia is intimately linked with Saint Benedict, the monks only came back to the town in 2000, some 190 years after the community was suppressed by the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte when he took control of swathes of Italy.
"(We have) started to accept once more that our life is not our own and God has altered our path once again," one of the monks, father Benedict, wrote mid-week after the Oct. 26 quake.
With dust still blowing in the air on Sunday morning following Italy's strongest quake since 1980, monks and residents sank to their knees in front of the eviscerated Basilica in silent prayer.
While many of Norcia's sturdy houses have been earthquake-protected and largely survived this year's wave of tremors, the town's bigger religious structures were found to be less stable.
"Our churches have suffered terrible injuries," said mayor Nicola Alemanno, describing the old stone buildings as though they were living beings.
A short distance from the town square, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Argentea lay in ruins, its roof caved in, while the nearby Convent of Sant'Antonio was also badly scarred.
"Everything is broken. All the rooms, the belltower has fallen down, the church itself," said an elderly nun, leaning on her cane as she was interviewed by la Repubblica TV.
Local authorities have ordered residents out of the town centre, forcing the nuns and monks to seek shelter elsewhere, including the six sisters from the Monastery of the Poor Clares, who were dismayed to hear that they would have to stay with Benedictine nuns in nearby Trevi.
"They live differently in other cloisters. They don't get up to pray at night," said Sister Maria Chiara Vittorie, 73.
"It makes me sad to leave because this is our cloister, our life is here."
Italian PM promises to rebuild every building as Basilica of St Benedict destroyed by earthquake
30 October 2016 | by Sean Smith
Town of Norcia destroyed along with basilica and monastery as tremors felt more than 100 miles away in Rome
Prime minister Matteo Renzi has promised that the Italian government will rebuild everything destroyed by a series of earthquakes that have devastated the central regions of the country - including today's earthquake that destroyed the Basilica of St Benedict, built above the home of the saint, in the town of Norcia.
“We will rebuild everything — the houses, the churches, the shops. We are dealing with marvelous territories, territories of beauty,” Renzi told reporters on Sunday, reconfirming a pledge he made after an earthquake in Amatrice killed more than 300 people and levelled the ancient town.
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis said prayers for those affected by the earthquake, which seriously injured a number of people but has so far not claimed any lives. “I express my closeness to the people of central Italy,” the Pope said in the Vatican on Sunday morning. “I pray for the wounded and the families that have suffered major damage; as well as for the personnel” involved in rescue efforts and in aiding the victims."
He concluded his remarks with the prayer “May the Risen Lord give them strength, and the Madonna watch over them.”
Sunday’s earthquake was the latest in a series of seismic events to strike central Italy. Earlier this month, Francis visited the area to express his closeness to victims of magnitude 6.2 quake that hit the region in August, killing almost 300 people. This morning's earthquake could be felt as far away as Rome 100 miles away - and was strong enough to set off car alarms both in Rome and Venice.
The earthquake in Norcia on Sunday was the strongest so far in the latest series of tremors, measuring approximately 6.5 on the Richter scale. It is believed to be the strongest quake in Italy since 1980.
Significant structural damage was recorded as many buildings had already been weakened by earlier earthquakes in the region. The Basilica of St Benedict, built over the birthplace of Sts Benedict and Scholastica has been destroyed. The destruction was confirmed by the monks at Norcia who said on Twitter that they suffered no casualties but are searching for any victims of the earthquake that "may need Last Rites".
"This morning, around 7:40, a massive earthquake struck the area near Norcia," a statement by the monks said on their website. We monks are all fine, but our hearts go now to those affected, and the monks of the monastery trying to figure out if someone is in need of extreme unction.
"The Basilica of St. Benedict, the historic church built over St. Benedict the house, collapsed as a result of these shocks. That this serves to illustrate the power of the earthquake, and the urgency that we feel monks in going to the aid of those in need of the Sacraments in this difficult day for Italy," the statement added.