Set like a gem in the rock face of Mount Taleo near Subiaco, the Sanctuary of the Sacro Speco (“Holy Cave”) has been one of the most significant places of Benedictine spirituality for almost a thousand years. For here is enshrined the very cave in which the young Saint Benedict of Norcia lived in the early sixth century as a hermit, following the example of the Desert Fathers.
Through that period of solitude spent in this harsh and wild place, Saint Benedict was able to bring to maturity the charism and the spirituality which would lead him in a few years’ time to found the first monastic communities along the Aniene river valley: the seed from which would develop the whole of western monasticism.
Even today, although surrounded by extraordinary architectural and artistic masterpieces built over the course of centuries, the cave conveys the authentic sense of fuga mundi of Saint Benedict, the foundation of every type of monastic life.
The Cave of Saint Benedict became a place of worship as early as the sixth century, and the oldest artistic evidence dates back to the eighth century. The evolution of the structure that we know today began in the second half of the eleventh century, characterized by a surprising balance between the human and the natural elements, between architecture and the living rock.
The most significant cycles of paintings date back to the thirteenth and fourteenth century and surround the visitor with frescoes deemed extraordinary for their quality and conservation. Among these, we recall the oldest existing portrait of Saint Francis of Assisi, exceptional pilgrim who reached Subiaco in 1223.