30 July

"Dear young people, answer generously to Jesus Christ’s call
who invites you to « put out into deep water » and to become his witnesses.
You will discover the trust that Christ puts in you to invent a future with him.
In order to be accomplished, this mission entrusted to you by the Church
first requires cultivating an authentic life of prayer, nourished
by the sacraments, especially by Eucharist and Reconciliation. 
"

Abbey Casamari – From Ceres to Saint Bertrand

Author: Jean Huot

Casamari is located near Frosinone, on the Way of Saint Benedict (which runs from Nursia to Monte Cassino). The name of Casamari comes from the abbey which is there and still active today. Casamari is a red point of Euromoot, the monks of the abbey are hosting us on the grounds close to this abbey. If you choose to walk through this point, don’t forget to visit this Cistercian abbey, touching by its simplicity, its flowered gardens and its history!

A little history

In Roman times, on the site of the abbey, was the municipality of Cereate Marianae dedicated to the goddess Ceres, but also to General Caius Marius who fought Sylla during the civil war of 88 B.C. At that time, the site received the name of the Marius House or Casa Marii. Close to the abbey, we can still find elements of the Roman period, just in front of the main entrance. 

The Benedictines founded an abbey. 

After a long period of decline due to the fall of the Roman Empire, in the 11th century, we can find traces of the presence of a community of Benedictine monks who built a church dedicated to Saint John and Saint Paul. The abbey then took off spiritually, but also economically and politically.

Between 1140 and 1152 the Benedictine monks clad in black were replaced by Cistercians who wore a white habit. Their lived ideal of simplicity, poverty and austerity allowed them to gain the population. It’s at that time that the current monastery was built between 1140 and 1152, in the place of the initial Benedictine building. 250 monks from Clairvaux came from France and built the new monastery adopting the typical plan of Cistercian abbeys. The abbey then bore the name of Mary’s House (Casa Marii) and was dedicated to the Virgin (1217). 

The tremors of history.  

After that, the abbey lived with the tremors of history during the captivity of the Pope in Avignon in France (1305-1377), and of the great Western Schism (1378-1417). The monastery was ransacked in 1430. A long period of decline and decisions contrary to the initial call of the abbey reduced the community to 8 monks in 1623. The Trappist reform was then implemented in the abbey. 

In 1811, the Napoleonic troops closed the abbey. It’s only in 1929 that the Cistercian monks came back to the abbey which was, soon after, entrusted the mission of restoring Western monasticism in Ethiopia (by Pius XI). Currently, the congregation of Casamari includes 19 houses, and the abbey is animated by a community of 22 monks.

Its architecture

You can recognise in Casamari the typical architecture of a Cistercian abbey combining simplicity, symbolism and beauty. The abbey is built to meet the needs of the monks’ community life in its particular call, while making sure that it respects harmony and life balance in spite of the rule’s rigour. 

The cloister

It’s a place of quiet and meditation. The four sides of the cloister represent the four elements of the universe, the four galleries are an image of man’s pilgrimage on earth towards God’s perfect love, the garden embodies cosmos’ beauty and harmony for the earth is cultivated, the water springs through the fountain and the light enlightens everything. It’s an image of the Garden of Eden. 

The refectory

It goes back to the 13th century and its design as simple as elegant should absolutely be seen. The huge pillars are impressive, and separate the huge refectory into two naves. 

The capitular hall

It’s the place of the monks’ councils, the place where the candidates are welcomed, where they receive their habit, where the abbot is elected, where each monk may talk before his brothers. The capitular hall is the place where the monks may talk before the whole community, the hall where they can “have a voice in the chapter”. 

The church

The building is grand, severe and perfectly in agreement with the vows of the Cistercian order. You will notice the exemplary soberness of its building in this monastic order which banishes sculptures, paintings and any unnecessary decoration which might divert the monks from their prayer.

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