Thursday, October 16, 2008

new norcia

From trek phase 4
We are currently in New Norcia, a Benedictine monastery town set up in 1846 by 2 Spanish monks previously exiled in Italy at the tail end of the Spanish inquisition and keen to find a new venue for their devotional lifestyle.

The first fifty years of New Norcia's history are dominated by Bishop Rosendo Salvado (1814 - 1900) and Dom Joseph Serra, the two founders:

'Salvado's original vision was to create, among the indigenous peoples of the Victoria Plains, a Christian, largely self-sufficient village based on agriculture. However, after the decimation of the local populations by introduced diseases in the 1860's, he concentrated his activity on giving a practical education to the indigenous children.'

It seems to be a common theme with the arrival of Christian missionaries that their first achievements when arriving to spread 'the good word' was to bring TB, smallpox and other European goodies to kill and debilitate.

The community spread in the 1800's and at the end of the century they owned or oversaw around 1 million acres of land, and became extraordinarily wealthy dabbling in farming, brewing, horse studs, bee-keeping and collections of religious art works.

The community has dwindled to 19 monks and the schools closed in the 1970's but what remains is a very unusual collection of Spanish style architecture so the whole place feels like a European town and a far cry from Australia. Many buildings have been restored and work is ongoing. The monks still bake a mean loaf of bread and the vineyards are still productive in a smaller scale than their heyday.

From trek phase 4

The chapels are all highly decorated with that gaudy and overwhelming iconography that the Catholic church favours.

From trek phase

The Benedictine monks seem to have religious life sorted thanks to St.Benedict and his book of rules. No self-flagellation, endless vows of silence or starvation for these chaps- three good meals a day, fine wines and their own bakery, tv and internet access, endless foreign travel. Shame about the celibacy and all that praying.

The whole lifestyle is based on St.Benedict ( c480-c457) or Norcia's Book of Rules which the saint wrote during the three years he lived as a hermit in a cave with his pet raven- I guess he had to do something on those cold, dark nights.

I rather liked the following:


....keeping in view the frailty of the weak, we think that one hemina (approx half a pint) of wine daily is enough for each. Those, however, to whom God grants the capacity to abstain should know that they will have their own reward.

If however local conditions of the work or the summer heat call for more it must be for the superior to decide but he must take care that neither excess nor drunkenness overtakes them. For although we read that wine is not at all a drink for monks,yet,since in our day it is impossible to persuade monks of this, let us agree at least about this that we should not drink our fill but more sparingly, since wine leads even wise men into infidelity.

When however local conditions bring it about that the above mentioned quantity is not available, but much less or none at all, then those who live there should bless God and not grumble. We lay special stress on this that the brethren remains free from grumbling.

...which reads as:

..You really shouldn't
..Well OK- half a pint a day
..OK ,OK more if it is hot ( we are in Australia)
..BUT no getting pissed
..and do NOT go running to the Abbot wingeing when we run out

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