The great monastery of Monte Oliveto–nestled in the hills of Tuscany just South of the city of Siena.
I visited there on my 1987 hitch hiking pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and re-visited last summer on a trip to Italy.
Readers have asked, “What has happened to the Suburban Hermit? Have you closed that blog?”
The answer is that I have been very busy and have been feeling for some time that my writing is going in a different direction, but I’m not sure exactly where. Suburban Hermit was started last Fall for the same reason.
Anyway, should people be surprised that a hermit is, well, eremitical? A hermit is not supposed to be talkative you know!!
Just kidding. Sorry not more has been done here. Now over the summer things are a bit quieter, so perhaps Suburban Hermit will get back to blogging a bit
What has prompted this post it today’s Mass reading of Elijah in the cave on Mt Horeb–the mountain of the Lord. This is probably my most favorite Bible passage from the Old Testament.
At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter.
But the word of the LORD came to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
A voice said to him, “Elijah, why are you here?”
He replied, “I have been most zealous for the LORD,
the God of hosts.
But the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant,
torn down your altars,
and put your prophets to the sword.
I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.”
The LORD said to him,
“Go, take the road back to the desert near Damascus.
When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king of Aram.
Then you shall anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi, as king of Israel,
and Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah,
as prophet to succeed you.”
What I love about this is that Horeb–the mountain of God–is also the site where God appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush and where the Ten Commandments were given. We often think of that site as Sinai, but “Sinai” is better named as the region where this mountain is, although the mountain itself is also called Sinai.
God appears at the Burning Bush to reveal that his name is I AM–he is the source of Being itself and IS Being itself. Then at Horeb in the thunder, smoke and fire the Ten Commandments are given and God shields Moses from his glory. When Elijah goes there however, God is NOT in the earthquake, wind and fire, but in the still, small voice.
There in the silence the same God who gave the Ten Commandments and revealed himself as the ground of all Being comes in a personal and intimate way in the moment of contemplation. He is there in the timeless moment out of time. He is there whispering, “Be Still and Know that I AM God.” Thus Elijah is the forerunner of all contemplative prayer. He is the Father of Eucharistic Adoration.
That’s why Elijah is the forerunner and father of the whole monastic movement. He is the inspiration for the first desert fathers who went out into the same harsh Egyptian desert to find God in the caves of glory. He is the inspiration for the Carmelite order founded on Mt Carmel. Down through the whole monastic tradition from the Eastern Fathers to Benedict, Bruno and the Carthusians, the Camaldolese and the rest, Fr Elijah is the man.
The holy mountain can still be visited today. At its base is the ancient monastery of St Catherine of Sinai. I went there during my great pilgrimage in 1987 when I hitchhiked from England to Jerusalem. I climbed the mountain, beginning late in the afternoon and found a cave to sleep in half way up. The next morning I joined another group of pilgrims to climb to the top of the Holy Mountain for sunrise.
It’s a wonderful tradition which connects you even today with Moses, the burning bush, the reception of the law of God and Elijah, the cave,and the still small, voice of love.
The hermits of Camaldoli were founded by St Romuald–a Benedictine monk– in the mountains of central Italy in 1012.
It is the home base of the Camaldolese Monastic order. I visited Camaldoli in the summer of 1987 during my hitch hiking pilgrimage from England to the Holy Land.
It was a long hike up the mountain before finally arriving at the guesthouse in the wooded area secluded on the mountaintop.
The Camaldolese have houses around the world. The New Camaldoli Hermitage is their main outpost in the USA. It is in the Santa Lucia mountains of Big Sur, California.
Because of revolution, the Benedictine life in France had nearly died out.
Dom Prosper Gueranger restored the life at Solesmes. The abbey was suppressed four times by the French government, but the community survived.
In the early twentieth century the monks were forced into exile in England and established Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight
The Solesmes congregation of French monks are noted for their dedication to Gregorian Chant, solemn liturgy and devotion to a traditional monastic regime.
The ancient Romanesque church is situated in a beautiful secluded valley in Tuscany.
I visited here last summer while on a private pilgrimage to Italy. Ever since I had seen this church and been inspired by it to build our new church of Our Lady of the Rosary it had been a dream of mine to make it to San Antimo.
It was a Benedictine monastery in the 12th century, but its power didn’t last very long. That is why the church is in such an unspoiled example of Romanesque architecture. It was pretty much abandoned by 1300. In the 1870s the Italian state paid for its restoration. In 1992 monastic life was restored with the arrival of Premonstratensian monks (Norbertines)
At the time of our visit there were about eight monks. We were able to stay in the nearby hilltop town in the monastic guest house. The monks sang the offices and celebrated Mass in the Novus Ordo, with Gregorian chant and mostly in Latin and with great solemnity and beauty.
I wish I could have stayed for a week on retreat. Sadly, the Norbertines are about to abandon the location due to lack of numbers. Pray that the bishop will find a new community to take charge of this beautiful monastic heritage site.
Here is the interior after morning Mass. They used lots of incense and the morning light through the smoke created this great picture.