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VILLA OF NERO. 295

his fate by a portent most terrible in those times of omens, when his drinking-cup was shivered in his hand by lightning whilst he was seated at a banquet near the lake, a presage which seized upon his mind with appalling effect. That very day he had bathed in the aqueduct of the Aqua Marcia, that all his people might enjoy the privilege of drinking water that had been thus defiled.* The choice of his villa amid the ^Equian mountains shows that, in spite of all his monstrosities, Nero must have been as great a connoisseur of the beauties of nature as of art, and for centuries the glorious gorge through which the Anio foams beneath its ruins, between tremendous crags clothed with evergreens and flowers, has been a sanctuary to half the poets and painters in the world.

Hither, four centuries after the time of Nero, when the recollection of his orgies had given place to silence and solitude, a young patrician, sprung from the noble family of the Anicii, which gave Gregory the Great to the Church, and many other saints to the sacred calendar, fled from the seductions of the capital, to seek repose for his soul, with God alone as his companion. The name of the fugitive was Benedictus, or "the blessed one." He was only fourteen when he renounced his fortune, his family, and the world. It was to Mentorella that he first fled, and thither he was followed by his faithful nurse Cyrilla, who could not bear to think that the child of her affections was alone and uncared for, who begged for him, and prepared the small modicum of food which he could be prevailed upon to take. Some neighbour had lent her a stone sieve to make bread,

• Claudius first made an aqueduct to bring to Rome the water of two fountains called Curtius and Caeruleus, in the hills above Sublacum.

after the manner of the mountain district, she let it fall out of her hands, and it was broken to pieces. Moved by her distress, Benedict prayed over the fragments, and the}- are said to have been instantly joined together. This was his first miracle. Terrified at the excitement it caused, and at seeing the sieve hung up in the village church as a relic, Benedict evaded the solicitude of his nurse, and escaped unseen by any one to the gorge of Subiaco, where he found (c. 480) a cave in the rocks above the falls of the Anio, into which not even a ray of the sun could penetrate. Here he lived, his hiding-place unknown to any one, except to Romanus, a monk who dwelt amid a colony of anchorites founded by S. Clement on the ruins of Nero's villa. By him he was provided with a garment made of the skin of a beast, and each day Romanus let down to him from the top of the rock the half of his daily loaf, giving him notice of its approach by the ringing of a bell suspended to the same rope with the food. It is said that when the devil wished to make himself particularly disagreeable to Benedict he would cut the cord which supplied him. His hidingplace was discovered by a miracle. A village priest seated at a banquet of Easter luxuries had a revelation that while he was thus feasting a servant of God was pining with hunger, and his steps were miraculously directed to the hermitage. Benedict refused to eat the delicate food, until convinced that it was indeed the festival of Easter. The priest told what he had seen to the shepherds, who, while following their goats along one of the tiny pathlets which may still be seen on the face of these mountains, had seen a strange creature with unkempt hair, and nails like claws, and taking it for a wild beast, had fled from it in terror. They were THE TWELVE MONASTERIES. 297

now re-assured by his gentle words, and from that day, while they watched their flocks, he began to instil into their rude and ignorant minds the light of the Christian faith. Gradually their report became spread abroad, pilgrims flocked from all quarters to the valley, and through the disciples who gathered round Benedict, this desolate ravine became the cradle of monastic life in the West.

"The life of Benedict, from infancy to death, is the most perfect illustration of the motives which then worked upon the mind of man. In him meet and combine together all those influences which almost divided mankind into recluses or ccenobites, and those who pursued an active life; as well as all the effects, in his case the best effects, produced by this phasis of human thought and feeling. Benedict, it was said, was born at that time, like a sun to dispel the Cimmerian darkness which brooded over Christendom, and to revive the expiring spirit of monasticism. His age acknowledged Benedict as the perfect type of the highest religion, and Benedict impersonated his age.

"How perfectly tire whole atmosphere was then impregnated with an inexhaustible yearning for the supernatural, appears from the ardour with which the monastic passions were indulged at the earliest age. Children were nursed and trained to expect at every instant more than human interferences; their young energies had ever before them examples of asceticism, to which it was the glory, the true felicity of life, to aspire. The thoughtful child had all his mind thus pre-occupied; he was early, it might almost seem intuitively, trained to this course of life ; wherever there was gentleness, modesty, the timidity of young passion, repugnance to vice, an imaginative temperament, a consciousness of unfitness to wrestle with the rough realities of life, the way lay invitingly open—the difficult, it is true, and painful, but direct and unerring way to heaven. It lay through perils, but was made attractive by perpetual wonders ; it was awful, but in its awfulness lay its power over the young mind. It learned to trample down that last bond which united the child to common humanity, filial reverence; the fond and mysterious attachment of the child and the mother, the inborn reverence of the son to the father."—Milman's Latin Christianity.

Twelve monasteries speedily arose amid these peaks and gorges, each only containing twelve monks, for it was an idea of Benedict that a larger number led to idleness and neglect The names of several of these institutions recall their romantic situations, and they were the scenes of the miracles attributed to the founder and his disciples. S. Clemente della Vigna was the place whither Maurus and Placidus were brought to Benedict by their parents. It was situated near one of the lakes, and it was there that the sickle of a Gothic monk, which he dropped into the water while cutting weeds upon the bank, swam in answer to the prayers of Maurus, who summoned it by holding the wooden handle over the waves. This monastery was entirely destroyed by the earthquake of 1216. S. S. Cosmo and Damian was the next to be built, the monastery which was afterwards dedicated to Scholastica. S. Biagio (S. Blaise) was the home of the monk Romanus, the friend of Benedict. Its church wa? consecrated in 1100 by Manfred, Bishop of Tivoli. 5. Giovanni dell'Acqua was so called because there, as well as in two other houses, water is said to have burst forth from the arid rock to supply the thirsting monks, in answer to the prayers of Benedict.* Santa Maria de Marebotta was afterwards called S. Lorenzo in honour of the holy monk S. Lorenzo Loricato who lived there as a hermit, in the most severe austerity, from 1209 to 1243. At San? Angelo, Benedict saw the devil, in the form of a black boy, leading away a monk, who had neglected to attend properly the services of the Church. In S, Victor at the foot of the Mountain lived the monk who brought the Easter food to Benedict when he was starving in the cave. S. Andrew, or Eternal Life, was ruined in a Lombard invasion. .S. Michael the Archangel was built by Benedict beneath the Sacro Speco,

• This subject is represented in Uw frescoes of Spinello at San Miniato.

APPROACH TO THE MONASTERIES. 299

but has long since disappeared. Sanf Angelo di Trevi stood near Sta. Scholastica and was incorporated with it. S. Girolamo was rebuilt as late as 1387 in accordance with a bull of Urban VI. S. Donato has entirely disappeared. Gradually all these societies became incorporated in the great monastery dedicated to Scholastica, the holy sister of Benedict, which may be regarded as the mother house of the whole Order, and which was governed by a regular abbot chosen by the General Chapter.

The visits of the numerous Popes who have come hither form landmarks in the story of the place. In 853 Leo IV., summoned by the Abbot Peter, came to consecrate the altars of the Sacro Speco. In 981 Benedict VII. came to consecrate Sta. Scholastica. In 1052 Leo IX. was summoned to turn out a monk who had unlawfully seized the abbacy—and issued a bull appointing Sta. Scholastica "Caput omnium monasteriorum per Italiam constitutorum." In the thirteenth century the privileges of the monastery were greatly augmented by Alexander IV., who had lived there as a simple monk, and who declared in his diploma that other Benedictine communities had only to look to Sta. Scholastica to receive a perfect model which they should copy. The same affection for the place was evinced by Urban V., who had also been a Benedictine, and who colonized the monastery with German monks, to amend the morals of the brethren, which had then grievous need of it. The last of a long series of papal visits was that of Pius IX. in the first year of his pontificate.

The road which leads from the town to the monasteries (S. Benedetto is about two and a half miles distant) is beautiful,—bordered by ilexes and olives, beneath which there is

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