At the root of Christianity and European civilisation
By following the different stages of the Routes of Faith, the traveller is immersed in a unique atmosphere, one that offers an increasingly rare opportunity to listen to oneself and one’s own emotions, whilst discovering at the same time the complexity and different forms of the monastic movement, which made its mark on the history, art and culture of Italy from the VI century onwards and provided a determining contribution to the birth of European civilisation.
From pagan religion to Christianity
Many churches are built on the remains of Roman temples, clearly showing that the transition from pagan religion to Christianity came about gradually; today people still show their affection for their own Saints by celebrating festivals, whose traditions are often based on events in the past; some of these originate from the adaptation of pagan rites to become celebrations in honour of Christian saints, as occurred some two centuries ago in the city of Isernia, when the ancient pagan festivities for Priapus were "transformed" into those for St. Cosmas, the physician saint, and his twin St. Damian. Healing qualities were attributed to the miraculous water that sprung forth from the sarcophagus of St. Nicander (the "manna" of St. Nicander), which cured the sick as they came to the city of Venafro. The saints have played an important role in the birth and development of many towns and cities. Their presence (through their relics and other objects owned by or linked to them) was believed to protect the town from terrible events. Because of this, throughout the Middle Ages, it became quite common to "adopt" the relics of saints who came from other cities or foreign countries. The relics were sometimes even stolen by a rival city; this behaviour, which was not unusual, became known as "sacred theft". Building a church to house the relics, and "owning" them, was believed to give protection from natural disaster, wars or invasions and also meant a large influx of pilgrims, with an undeniable effect on the finances of the local area. It is in this context that the cult of St. Emidius was introduced to Agnone by the master wool craftsmen of Ascoli, so that he might protect the city from earthquakes, and the cult of St. George was started by the inhabitants of Campobasso, who believed he had led them to victory against rival cities, during battles fought in the late Middle Ages.
Detail of the Chatedral of St. Pardus
The Europe of St. Benedict
St. Benedict (Norcia 480 - Cassino 547) lived in the "dark ages" of the High Middle Ages. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe was still devoted to pagan cults and was confused and disturbed by barbaric invasions, with its population decimated by plague and famine. St. Benedict turned his attention to evangelisation and started a journey of moral and cultural rebirth, which soon became a greater work of spiritual and civil unification across Europe. Guided by the Benedictine monks, the people of Europe learned to drain the marshes, cut down forests, cultivate the land, lay new roads and to read and write.
Detail of the fresco in the ancient Crypt in the Basilica of Montecassino