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Abbazia di Sant’Eutizio

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Not far from the town of Preci, on a rocky white limestone outcrop that looks out over the Castoriana valley, stands one of the oldest monastic complexes in Italy.

The origins of the Abbey date back to the 5th – 6th century, a period when the Apennine valleys become the refuge of monks from the East who retreated to the local rocky climbs to dedicate themselves to a life of poverty, contemplation and asceticism. Initially small communities made up of a few individuals living in meagre huts, they laid the foundations for the birth of the Benedictine rule ‘ora et labora’ (pray and work).

In his ‘Dialogorum’, Saint Gregory the Great tells the story of the venerable St. Spes, a Syrian monk who, having arrived in Italy in the 5th century, founded a small oratory dedicated to the Virgin Mary near a rich water source that still irrigates the surrounding land. The monk led the monastic community for about forty years until his death in 510. At that point, one of his most devoted and virtuous disciples was entrusted to continue his late master’s work. Sant’Eutizio moved to the small oratory, carving into the rock (today surmounted by the bell tower) the cell he used as a retreat for prayer, together with his companion St. Fiorenzo, also a disciple of St. Spes.

After the death of Sant’Eutizio in 536, a monastery was built in his memory as champion of the development and expansion of the small community. Dedicating themselves to agriculture, breeding, harnessing the woods’ resources and the spiritual guidance of the area’s inhabitants, the monks secured considerable donations, increased their economic and political influence in the valley and became highly educated. They established the renowned Scuola Chirurgica (Surgical School), suppressed in 1215 by a decree of the Lateran Council which prohibited the monks from exercising their profession.

Fearing that the expertise they had acquired over centuries would be lost, the monks readily shared their knowledge with the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages, thereby preserving the surgical know-how.

In 1180 some restoration and extension work was carried out, cited in an inscription found on the entrance portal’s lunette. The works began under abbot Theodino I and ended in 1236 under Theodino II. Over subsequent centuries, the monastery fell into a state of neglect, was taken over by the Municipality of Norcia from the 14th to the 15th centuries and was occupied for some time by the Benedictines until a brief revival in the 17th century when, at the behest of Abbot Crescenzi, the beautiful bell tower was built, perched above the rocky outcrop housing the cell of the Saints Eutizio and Fiorenzo.

In 1950, the Abbey was completely abandoned and restored only a few decades later, at the end of the twentieth century, thanks to the commitment of the young parish priest Don Fabrizio Proietti, who was granted permission to settle there and who offered hospitality in exchange for help to restore the abandoned complex.

Today the abbey still hosts a small community of monks but is open to pilgrims and devotees who want to pray in a very special place. The small Romanesque-style church has a beautiful circular rose window with symbols of the four evangelists on each side. Inside and below the presbytery, there is a crypt with an urn containing the remains of Saint Eutizio, while the upper floor of the Abbey houses the Museo della Scuola Chirurgica (Surgical School Museum) and is definitely worth a visit.

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