The Monks of Norcia: Re-Building Tradition after the Earthquakes

By October 20, 2016November 18th, 2019Architecture, Art and Faith, Exhibits and Events, Italy

From now until November 4, 2016 I will donate 50% of net proceeds from the sale of original artwork on and my Etsy store to the Monks of Norcia Foundation to assist in re-building after the 2016 earthquakes.

Re-Building Culture: Then and Now

The Monks of Norcia know what it means to re-build. In the year 2000, the Vatican approved a new Benedictine community to joyfully reclaim a monastery in Norcia, Italy which had been devoid of monks since the early 1800s. The Monks of Norcia lovingly began to restore the Basilica of Saint Benedict, built over the fifth-century birthplace of the famous saint. Recently, Catholic Faith Journeys has begun to bring groups of pilgrims to Norcia to visit the monks and pray at the birthplace of Saint Benedict.

In a cultural sense, the Benedictines have always know what it means to rebuild. Click To Tweet

Widely credited as the founder of Western monasticism, Saint Benedict combined spirituality and practicality in his guide for monastic life, “The Rule of Saint Benedict”. The success of his communal experiment meant classical learning and Christian faith were preserved through the chaos and upheaval of medieval Europe. In a cultural sense, the Benedictines have always know what it means to rebuild.

Pope Paul VI dedicated the continent of Europe to Saint Benedict as its patron in 1964. In the midst of growing secularization in Europe, he entrusted Saint Benedict to rebuild and guide the continent of Europe through this crisis, as well.

Re-Building Hearts through Work and Prayer

The motto of the Benedictines is “ora et labora” – work and pray. Saint Benedict understood Incarnation – that there is a deep integration between body and spirit. Prayer and work nurture each other, as our bodies and spirits must both be nurtured in tandem. Saint Benedict understood that work and prayer rebuild our hearts in a sinful world which seeks to pull us apart, to dis-integrate us.


Depths, Monoprint on Paper, 14″ x 11″ ©Michelle Arnold Paine

Much of our contemporary Christian understanding of ministry, education, and worship can trace its origin to this monastic integration of work and prayer. The Benedictines have inspired countless other religious orders throughout the centuries which innovated within the culture. Thanks to Western monasticism we have hospitals, universities, and other institutions which we consider to be hallmarks of “civilization”.

Re-Building Christian Community

In the last few decades there has been a new ecumenical appreciation of monasticism. What does it mean to re-build Christian community in the 21st century? How do we respect and follow tradition while also moving forward in history, embracing the innovation of our natural human creativity?

How do we respect and follow tradition while also moving forward in history? Click To Tweet

The renewed interest in monasticism has sparked the imagination of higher education programs, particularly in America. The monks of Norcia are mostly Americans, and speak to the trans-Atlantic dialogue which is a large part of my own story. My journey to the Catholic Church and my artist vocation were initiated in the Gordon College in Orvieto program. Their handbook proudly proclaims to be a direct knock-off of Benedict’s Rule. (You can read more about my journey to Catholicism). The Gordon College in Orvieto program encourages creative students in the arts and humanities to rebuild an appreciation of beauty and the arts within the church.

Just this past year The Community of St. John began the Saint John’s Institute in Denver, Colorado. Here the students live in community with each other and the monastic Community of John while they take online courses towards an MBA. This unique model of formation has the final aim of creating financially sustainable ministry opportunities for the New Evangelization. Work and prayer; “Ora et labora”. Saint Benedict has something to contribute to those who wish to rebuild contemporary American education, too.

Re-Building Monastic Tradition

Benedict’s first monastery Montecassino, founded around 529 AD, was far (in those days) from his birthplace of Norcia in Umbria. Eventually the Benedictine monks found their way across the world and back to there. Since the 10th century monks have been the caretakers of the Basilica in Norcia built over the childhood home of the great saint and his sister Saint Scholastica.

In 1810 Napoleon closed many monasteries across Europe, and the monastic community in Norcia fled. Since that time there has been no monastic presence in the town… Until the year 2000, when Father Cassian and a group of American monks re-established a monastery there, renewing the Benedictine rhythm of work and prayer in the birthplace of the patron saint of Europe. The Monks of Norcia know what it means to re-build: they are re-building centuries-old monastic tradition in its birthplace after a long absence.

Benedict’s Rule encourages monastic communities to sustain themselves financially. Historically many European monasteries produced beer, a safe means of hydration in medieval, plague-ridden Europe. The Monks of Norcia are re-building this tradition, too: in 2012 Birra Nursia was launched, selling out the first batch in only a few days.

Re-Building in Norcia: How You Can Help

August 24, 2016, a massive earthquake hit the town of Amatrice and the mountainous region north of Rome. Although Norcia did not suffer the widespread destruction of Amatrice, significant structural damages occurred to the monastery. Since the earthquake the monks have been living in tents and soon will be moving into pre-fabricated housing as they, like many others, wait to renovate spaces which are too damaged to safely inhabit. In October, an even larger earthquake hit closer to Norcia and all the churches, including the Basilica of Saint Benedict, crumbled completely. You can read more about their specific needs and plans at this linkThe monks of Norcia know what it means to rebuild, and they are asking for our help.

Purchase original art from and 50% will go to @MonksofNorcia Click To Tweet

From now until November 4, 2016 I will donate 50% of net proceeds from the sale of original artwork on my website store and Etsy store to the Monks of Norcia Foundation. You can also contribute to them directly HERE or purchase one of their award-winning CDs. But I also urge you to consider taking home a visual reminder of sacred life by purchasing an original artwork.


I am very excited to meet Father Cassian, founder of the Norcia community in person at an event here in Perrysburg, Ohio. Catholic Faith Journeys, a Catholic pilgrimage company will be hosting a tasting of the brothers’ beer, Birra Nursia, as a fundraiser. I will be there with my architecture paintings and drawings, a celebration of ecclesial architecture and all things Italian!