Monday, February 10, 2014

No wonder he abdicated

Hermitage of Pietro da Morrone

This is the remote monastery where, in 1294 AD, Pietro da Morrone received the news he'd been elected pope.  He was 80 years old, with a reputation for great holiness but utterly without resources for coping with papal politics.  Pietro da Morrone was duly installed as Pope Celestine V, but four months later he returned to his hermitage, having abdicated the papacy.   In his Inferno, for having made this "great refusal," which he viewed as an act of cowardice, Dante placed Pope Celestine in the antechamber of hell.

In addition to his brief papacy and abdication, Pietro da Morrone is also known for founding a monastic order called the Celestines.  In 1484 AD, the Celestines were invited to take over the monastery at Nursia which had been built over the house of St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica, the founders of western monasticism.  In 1810 AD, Napoleon banished the monks, and the monastery remained empty for almost 200 years. 

In 2000 AD, a new order of monks, called the Benedictine Monks of Norsia, re-occupied the monastery at Nursia (now called Norsia).  These monks brew a beer called Birra Norsia.  The motto of the brewery is taken from the Psalms: “ut laetificet cor” (that the heart might be gladdened).  Shortly before he was elected pope, then-Cardinal Ratzinger visited the monastery on the feast of St. Benedict.  After his election, the monks presented Pope Benedict with the very first bottle of Birra Norsia.   The monks like to think that his visit to their monastery influenced Cardinal Ratzinger's choice of his papal name.  By coincidence, Pope Benedict became the first pope since Celestine V to abdicate the papacy.  

The monks also supplied Birra Norsia to the conclave which elected Pope Francis I.   Since their brewmaster's name is Brother Francis, the monks like to think they had something to do with Cardinal Bergoglio's choice of papal name also.  This is perhaps more of a stretch.

Birra Norsia has proven very popular in Italy, but unfortunately is not available in the US. 

The Benedictine Monks of Nursia publish a seasonal newsletter.  You can read the monks' winter newsletter here.

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