San Vincenzo al Volturno’s Abbey.

Archeological and spiritual site.

In the province of Isernia, at the foot of the high peaks of the Mainarde near the lively waters of the Volturno River stands the ancient Abbey of San Vincenzo al Volturno. The current monastery, housing a group of eight Benedictine nuns, is located to the east of the river, while the archaeological monastery of the early Middle Ages was located on the west.

The monastery was founded on a site that had been occupied in the pre-Roman period by the Samnites, and which had a villa in the early to mid-fifth century. The fortified estate was abandoned in the fifth century, then later a funerary church was constructed.

The medieval history of the monastery appears in the Chronicon Vulturnense, an illuminated manuscript written by Iohannes, a monk from the monastery around the year 1130. It is based on sources probably from the monastery archives, dating back to the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries and contains numerous images. The manuscript is today preserved in the Vatican Library.

According to the Chronicon Vulturnense, the monastery was founded by three noblemen from Benevento: Paldo, Tato and Taso in 731, who retired here to live a monastic life. The monastery grew rapidly in importance, extending its rule over an extensive area so as to form a virtual monastic duchy.

But many misfortunes affected the Abbey such as the Saracen invasion of 881, the monastery was raided and the monk’s community living there was massacred.

The surviving monks fled to Capua, near Naples. They returned in 914 to reconstruct a monastery, but only at the end of the tenth century were they able to reestablish the community in a permanent way,

The location of the monastery was transferred to a new, more defensible position on the east side of the river. At the end of the 11th century the monks made a drastic decision: the site of the Early Medieval monastery was abandoned in favour of a new settlement on the opposite side of the river Volturno. Much of this new fortified monastery had to be built by year 1115, when pope Paschal II consecrated its main church. The twelfth-century Norman conquest of Abruzzo, eventually led to the breakdown of the monastery’s power. In 1349 a new earthquake destroyed the monastery and left the area open to the expansion of the abbey of Mount Cassino The monastery’s population of monks diminished drastically and from the fifteenth century it was governed externally. In 1669 the monastery and all its remaining properties were awarded to Mount Cassino. The monastery was then bombed in World War II and severely damaged. The site has been the subject of a long-running archaeological investigation, which took place in a number of campaigns led by the University of Sheffield and the Archeological Department of the Molise region. The Crypt of Epiphanius dating back to Middle Ages is the feather in the cap of the whole site for its unique cycle of frescoes.

Today the ancient monastic building welcomes a new Benedictine community of eight sisters who dedicate themselves with commitment and enthusiasm to restore monastic life in the Abbey and to spread the joyful spirit of Benedictine life through prayer, work and hospitality. The facilities of the guesthouse are open to all those who wish to experience a few days of rest in body and spirit. It is also possible to participate in the Holy Mass on weekdays (Monday – Friday, 8 am).

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