Anagni and San Benedetto

Posted on April 14, 2008 by Holly Hayes
Part of: The Great European Road Trip

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Anagni Cathedral was a real highlight, thanks to its castle-like appearance and magnificent frescoed crypt. Anagni was the birthplace (and frequent residence) of four popes in the 1200s and its cathedral reflects that importance.

View from Southeast

View from southeast, with handy parking lot.

Classic Italy

A fine little Italian car next to the cathedral.

Pope Boniface VIII (15th century)

Monument to Pope Boniface VIII, commissioned by the not-so-humble pope himself. It's one of the only surviving contemporary portraits of a medieval pope.

Central Apse Detail

Zoom view of the lovely Romanesque apse.

west facade West facade.


Detached bell tower (campanile)

Nave Looking East

Cathedral interior

Crypt of St. Magnus (1237)

The magnificent Crypt of St. Magnus, covered in bright frescoes with fascinating subjects from the 13th century.

Crypt Fresco: Medieval Science

A microcosm, theory of the elements, and a debate between the Greek philosophers Galen and Hippocrates.

Crypt Fresco: Persecution of St. John the Evangelist

The martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist by boiling in a cauldron.

Lapidary Museum

The Lapidary Museum is part of the same 3-euro ticket that gets you in the crypt. It displays mainly inscriptions from Anagni ranging from Roman to medieval in date.

IMG_3832 We found lunch at this friendly little restaurant ("Taverna of the Popes") next to the cathedral.

xti_7729 We both had a nice penne with salmon followed by complimentary biscotti.

Today: San Benedetto in Subiaco

Today we made a morning trip to Subiaco, about 45 minutes northeast. Just outside the town on a mountain cliff is San Benedetto, a monastery built around the cave where St. Benedict spent three years meditating in the 600s AD. It required a steep walk up a few switchbacks, but it was absolutely worth it.

san benedetto, subiaco san benedetto, subiaco san benedetto, subiaco

San Benedetto has an exceptionally beautiful and peaceful location built right into the rocks of the mountainside and, like Anagni, it's filled with medieval frescoes.
There are two levels to the monastery church, the Upper Church and Lower Church.

lower church lower church

The churches were mostly built and frescoed in the 13th through 15th centuries. The subjects of the paintings are mainly biblical scenes, various saints, and scenes from the life of St. Benedict.

Adoration of the Magi

Adoration of the Magi

Pope Innocent III

Pope Innocent III.

St. Francis of Assisi

This portrait of St. Francis is very special, as it shows him without a halo or the stigmata. These and other factors indicate it was painted during his lifetime, before 1224. It is protected behind glass in a small chapel in the Lower Church.

st benedict and a slothful monk St. Benedict smacking a slothful monk with a rod.

st benedict and st scholastica St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica enjoying dinner together.

st mark the evangelist The winged lion, symbol of St. Mark the Evangelist.

st mark the evangelist A later, rather goofy, interpretation of the same.

The stairway in the lower church led to the monk's cemetery and is decorated with grim subjects reflecting this:

Triumph of Death

Death on a rampage

The Stages of Decomposition

Learning about the stages of decomposition

grotto of st benedict The Grotto of St. Benedict, believed to be the very cave where he lived as a hermit for three years before founding his first monastery.

Bookshop Monk

On the way out we visited the bookshop, manned by a friendly monk.

santa scholastica The switchback-heavy road back down the hill provided a fine view of Subiaco's other monastery, St. Scholastica (Benedict's sister seen in a fresco above). It was bombed in World War II and a lot of it has been rebuilt, but it has a nice tower and several pretty cloisters.

santa scholastica Closer look at Santa Scholastica. We parked and had a brief look around, but the sun had gone behind the clouds, photos weren't allowed inside, and you can only visit on a guided tour. And we were hungry. So we skipped it.

Finding lunch was, as usual in Italy so far, an astonishingly difficult task. There was a restaurant next to Santa Scholastica but it was closed. So we drove into the town of Subiaco, all the way to the top of the hill and back down again, but didn't find a single open restaurant. Finally, as we were preparing to give up, we spotted the perfect place near the bus station!

lunch in subiaco It's just the sort of place we always wish for at lunch and had never found - a casual place that sells hot slices of pizza or similar. This one not only had several kinds of pizza, but ready-made pasta dishes and plates of meat they would heat up for you. And cold Coke Zero in a fridge!

lunch in subiaco We each had two big slices of pizza and cold Cokes for a total of €7.20. The victory at having found the place was almost as delicious as the food.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped in Anagni again, mainly so I could check on whether the Treasury Museum was open. I hadn't known about it until I read my new guidebook on the cathedral last night. I inquired in the bookshop and sadly the answer was no, it wasn't open. There was no indication that it would be anytime soon, either. Oh, well.

Meanwhile, the weather took a serious turn for the worse and by the time I returned to David waiting at the car, the sky had turned an ominous gray and thunder rumbled across the countryside. We snapped a couple photos with the dramatic sky...

stormy skies over anagni stormy skies over anagni

..then barely got halfway to our hotel before the heavens opened up and it poured like I haven't seen it pour in a long time! I hope it's sunny again tomorrow, as we are heading to Rome! Hooray!