Norcia — An Island In The Cloud

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Norcia is a small Italian mountain town (pop. 4,500), surrounded by the ancient wall of a medieval hamlet/fortress.  It is seated deep in the Sibillini mountain range, approximately three hours northeast of Rome.

To some, Norcia is also known as the birthplace of St. Benedict, Italy’s most famous son, and the patron saint of Europe; and his twin sister, St. Scholastica.

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It’s said that, if you want to know a people, go to their countryside. That’s how I came to know Norcia. It is also the home of the Monastery of St. Benedict, staffed by American Benedictines. This is the main reason I came to Norcia: to seek–and to have found–solitude.

I arrived in Norcia in late Autumn.  And was instantly enamored with it.  Picture the scenery from “The Sound of Music”, enshrouded with foliage peaking in golden red hues.  As the bus rounded the last switchback turn, the town rose out of the morning fog, red-tiled roofs abutting each other, smoke lazily rising from chimneys.  I still remember the click-clack noise my wheeled luggage made on the cobblestone-lined plaza, and the scent of wood smoke and fresh bread from the bakeries lining the main street.

I came to know the monks well. They have become like brothers to me. I also know some of the townfolks from Norcia. They are not the glamorous people of Rome, Venice, Milan, etc.; rather, just plain ordinary farm folks.

All they have is Norcia. And their faith.

Can one fall in love with a place? I did, with Norcia.

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On August 30th, 2016, Norcia was at the epicenter of an 6.6-magnitude earthquake, the strongest in Italy since 1980.

This is the second series of quakes that hit Norcia. After the first quakes in August this year, the seismic engineers kept the town habitable, by literally wrapping it in steel cables. This time, the town is under “forced evacuation” order: it is no longer safe. All the churches–some as old as the 12th century, including the Basilica of St. Benedict–are on the ground, in rubble.

The government has relocated some of the townfolks to the coast. The others have petitioned for shipping containers so they could stay, primarily to look after their livestock. The monks have moved to a nearby location that they are renovating; as of last week, they finally got heat and running water.

The monks have decided to stay and rebuild. As for the townsfolks that choose to remain, I am not sure what their long-term solution will be: in a month or so, it will start to freeze; and whatever shelter for the livestock are also on the ground, demolished.

In the mean time, the quakes and aftershocks continue.

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The monks are hesitant to ask for donation. This would be the second time within two months that they would have to ask. They fear “compassion fatigue.” But if you can stand to be asked, you can donate at the link below. The funds go directly to the monks, and is tax-deductible.  A percentage of the donations will go to the Norcia community.

Donation link: http://en.nursia.org/donations/

What they prefer is that you buy their beer. That will give them the income they need. And you get something that “gladdens the heart.” I have a monthly beer subscription; take my words, it is good beer. Worth every penny. Some of this income will be funneled back into the community as well.

Beer purchase link: https://birranursia.com/

Either way, I know they and Norcia very much appreciate your generosity.

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