Showing posts with label Monte Cassino. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Monte Cassino. Show all posts

24 November 2018

Vittorio Miele - artist

Painter scarred by Battle of Monte Cassino


Miele's work often had strong elements of the  scuola metafisica as well as impressionism
Miele's work often had strong elements of the
scuola metafisica as well as impressionism
The 20th century artist Vittorio Miele, who found a way to express himself in art after losing his family in the Battle of Monte Cassino, was born in Cassino on this day in 1926.

Miele was a teenager when his home town and the mountain top Benedictine monastery witnessed one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War as Allied armies attempted to break the Gustav Line of the Axis forces.

Over a three-month period, the Allies made four assaults, each backed up by heavy bombing, and though the objective was eventually achieved it was at a very high price. There were at least 80,000 soldiers killed or  wounded, as well as countless civilians caught in the crossfire.

Miele lost his father, mother and sister. He survived but left the area as soon as he was able, settling 400km (249 miles) north in Urbino in the Marche.

It was there, from the age of 19, that he took courses in painting and became part of the city’s artistic life, developing a talent that in his mature years saw him once described as “the poet of silence”.

Miele's work has been exhibited in many parts of the world, in particular Canada and the United States as well as Italy
Miele's work has been exhibited in many parts of the world,
in particular Canada and the United States as well as Italy
In the following decades his work began to reach further afield.  In 1958 he took part in the Mantua National Art Exhibition and, in 1966, had his first solo show in Frosinone, just 60km (37 miles) from Cassino, at the La Saletta gallery. The following year, with his painting Meriggio was awarded a prize to the Avis art exhibition in Jesi.

Two years later, in 1969, Il Dolore received second prize at the Piervert International Painting Exhibition in France. In the same year, his painting Case di Ciociaria won first prize at the National Festival of Figurative Arts in Rome.

In the 1970s, an exhibition in San Marino attracted large visitor numbers and more recognition of his importance in 20th century Italian art came with an exhibition in Tokyo alongside works by Giorgio de Chirico, Franco Gentilini, Massimo Campigli and Domenico Cantatore. His works were also exhibited widely in the United States and Canada.

Miele returned to Cassino after a period living in the north of Italy
Miele returned to Cassino after a period
living in the north of Italy
The profound and lasting effect of what he witnessed as a young man in Cassino came to the fore in 1979, some 35 years after the destruction of the abbey, when he commemorated the anniversary with an exhibition called Testimony, for which he reproduced some of the images that had remained in his mind.

Miele moved back to Cassino in later life and died there in November 1999.

In 2009, the Umberto Mastroianni Foundation and the Municipality of Frosinone marked the 10th anniversary of his death with an exhibition dedicated to his life. A similar retrospective was hosted by the Galleria Gagliardi in San Gimignano, where he had exhibited more than once during his life.

In Frosinone, a city where he lived for many years, a school in Via Lago di Como is named after him.

The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
Travel tip:

After the Second World War, the Abbey of Monte Cassino was painstakingly rebuilt based on the original plans, paid for in part by the Vatican and in part by what could be raised in an international appeal.  Today, it is again a working monastery and continues to be a pilgrimage site, housing as it does the surviving relics of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. It also serves as a shrine to the 183,000 killed in the Battle of Monte Cassino and other fighting in the Allied assault on Rome.

Ciociaria has many towns built on rugged hillsides
Ciociaria has many towns built on rugged hillsides
Travel tip:

The ancient city of Frosinone, which was Gens Fursina in Etruscan times and Frusino under the Romans, is located on a hill overlooking the valley of the Sacco about 75km (47 miles) southeast of Rome, with the wider city spreading out across the surrounding plains. The Roman writer Cicero had a villa in Frusino. The city is part of a wider area known as Ciociaria, a name derived from the word ciocie, the footwear worn by the inhabitants in years gone by. Ciociaria hosts food fairs, events and music festivals as well as celebrating traditional feasts, when the local people wear the regional costume and the typical footwear, ciocie.

More reading:

Giorgio de Chirico - founder of the Scuola Metafisica

The existential realism of Alberto Sughi

How Allied bombing destroyed the Abbey of Monte Cassino

Also on this day:

1472: The birth of artist Pietro Torrigiano

1826: The birth of Pinocchio creator Carlo Collodi

1897: The birth of Mafioso Charles 'Lucky' Luciano


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28 December 2017

Piero the Unfortunate – Medici ruler

Ill-fated son of Lorenzo the Magnificent


Piero the Unfortunate's poor judgment  earned him his unenviable moniker
Piero the Unfortunate's poor judgment
earned him his unenviable moniker
Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici, later dubbed Piero the Unfortunate or The Fatuous, died on this day in 1503, drowning in the Garigliano river, south of Rome, as he attempted to flee following a military defeat.

The eldest son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Piero was handed power in Florence at the age of 21 following the death of his father.

He was a physically handsome young man who had been educated specifically so that he would be ready to succeed his father as head of the Medici family and de facto ruler of Florence.

Yet he turned out to be a feeble, ill-disciplined character who was not suited to leadership and who earned his unflattering soubriquet on account of his poor judgment in military and political matters, which ultimately led to the Medici family being exiled from Florence.

Piero took over as leader of Florence in 1492. Initially there was calm but the peace between the Italian states for which his father had worked tirelessly to achieve collapsed in 1494 when King Charles VIII of France led an army across the Alps with the intention to march on the Kingdom of Naples, claiming hereditary rights.

The young leader’s first bad decision had been to ally Florence with Naples rather than Milan, where his father had striven to maintain an even-handed relationship with both.

Ludovico Sforza, the former regent of Milan, was unimpressed, but at the same time saw an opportunity to re-assert his power in the city by scheming with Charles VIII to eject his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza, and replace him as Duke.

Charles VIII of France
Charles VIII of France
In return he allowed Charles’s army, some 30,000 strong, to proceed unchallenged through his territories and arrive at the borders of Tuscany.  Piero’s decision to ally with Naples meant that Florence, by association, was France’s enemy

Piero at first attempted to mount some resistance, but at a time when the fanatical Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola was undermining the authority of the Medici court he struggled to garner support from the Florentine elites.

He then made the extraordinary decision to seek a deal with Charles, taking the lead from his father’s great act of diplomacy in 1479, when Lorenzo reached a settlement with Naples by making a personal visit to the King of Naples.

Piero persuaded Charles to give him an audience, yet returned home having given away several important Tuscan castles along with the ports of Pisa and Livorno.

His poor handling of the situation and failure to negotiate better terms led to an uproar in Florence, and the Medici family fled. The family palazzo was looted, the Republic of Florence was re-established and the Medici formally exiled.

A member of the Medici family would not rule Florence again until 1512, after Piero’s younger brother, Giovanni, was elected Pope Leo X.

Piero and his family at first fled to Venice. In 1503, as the French fought the Spanish over the Kingdom of Naples, he travelled south. The two armies engaged in the Battle of Garigliano, named after a major river between Naples and Rome, and after the French were routed Piero attempted to escape to the south but was drowned as he tried to cross the the Garigliano river.

French artist Henri Philippoteaux's depiction of a scene from the 1503 Battle of Garigliano
French artist Henri Philippoteaux's depiction of a scene from
the 1503 Battle of Garigliano
Travel tip:

The Garigliano river, which flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea near Marina di Minturno, south of Formia, marks the border between Lazio and Campania.  Its strategic position has led it to be the scene of several notable battles. In 915 a coalition of the papal army, the Byzantines, Franks, Lombards and Neapolitans defeated the Garigliano Arabs there and in 1503 came the fateful Battle of Garigliano after which Piero drowned and Medici power transferred to his brother, Giovanni.  During the Italian Campaign of the Second World War, the Liri and Gari-Garigliano rivers were key elements of a system of German defensive lines around which the battle of Monte Cassino took place in 1943-1944.




The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
Travel tip:

Piero the Unfortunate’s body was buried in the cloister of Monte Cassino abbey, one of the most famous abbeys in the world, established in the sixth century when Saint Benedict chose its mountain location as a place to host him and his fellow monks as they travelled from the monastery at Subiaco, outside Rome. At a height of 520m (1,700ft) it is a landmark for travellers on the A1 motorway and the Rome-Naples railway. The abbey has been destroyed four times – by the Lombards in 577, the Saracens in 887, an earthquake in 1349 and by the ferocious Battle of Monte Cassino in the Second World War, when the Allies made the controversial decision to bombard the site, which they suspected was being used by the Germans to launch artillery attacks.  Fortunately, the Germans smuggled out most of the priceless books and artworks to a place of safety prior to the bombardment and the abbey was rebuilt after the war had ended.


More reading:




Also on this day:






(Paintings: Portrait of Piero by Gherardo di Giovanni del Fora (1494); portrait of Charles VIII by unknown painter in the style of Jean Perréal, Musée Condé, Chantilly; Battle of Garigliano by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux (1840), Palace of Versailles) 

(Picture credit: Monte Cassino Abbey by Ludmiła Pilecka via Wikimedia Commons)



7 March 2017

Saint Thomas Aquinas - philosopher

Theologian who synthesised Aristotle’s ideas with principles of Christianity


A portrait of Saint Thomas Aquinas by the Italian artist Carlo Crivelli
A portrait of Saint Thomas Aquinas
by the Italian artist Carlo Crivelli
Saint Thomas Aquinas, known in Italian as Tommaso d’Aquino, died on this day in 1274 at Fossanova near Terracina in Lazio.

A Dominican friar who became a respected theologian and philosopher, D’Aquino was canonised in 1323, less than 50 years after his death.

He was responsible for two masterpieces of theology, Summa theologiae and Summa contra gentiles. The first sought to explain the Christian faith to students setting out to study theology, the second to explain the Christian faith and defend it in the face of hostile attacks.

As a poet, D'Aquino wrote some of the most beautiful hymns in the church’s liturgy, which are still sung today.

D’Aquino is recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as its foremost philosopher and theologian and he had a considerable influence on the development of Western thought and ideas. His commentaries on Scripture and on Aristotle are an important part of his legacy and he is still regarded as the model teacher for those studying for the priesthood.

D’Aquino was born in Roccasecca in the province of Frosinone in about 1225 in the castle owned by his father, who was count of Aquino.

He was placed in the nearby monastery of Monte Cassino when he was a young boy as a prospective monk. But after nine years in the monastery he was forced to return to his parents when the Holy Roman Emperor expelled all the monks for being too obedient to the Pope.

Fra Angelico's depiction of  Thomas Aquinas with his Summa Theologiae in the Convent of San Marco in Florence
Fra Angelico's depiction of  Thomas Aquinas with his Summa
Theologiae in the Convent of San Marco in Florence
After D’Aquino was sent to the University of Naples, he encountered scientific and theological works translated from Greek and Arabic for the first time.

He joined the Dominicans, which was a new religious order actively involved in preaching and teaching. His superiors immediately sent him to Paris pursue his studies.

But on the way there he was abducted on his parents’ orders because they did not want him to continue with the Dominicans. After a year in captivity in the family castle, his parents reluctantly liberated him and he was able to continue on his journey.

He studied at the Convent of Saint-Jacques under Saint Albertus Magnus, a scholar with a wide range of intellectual interests.

D’Aquino’s writings have been interpreted as the integration into Christian thought of the recently-discovered Aristotelian philosophy, but they also presented the need for a cultural and spiritual renewal, not only in the lives of individual men, but throughout the church.

He took the degree of Master of Theology, received the licence to teach in 1256 and then started to teach theology in a Dominican school.

The historic Abbey of Monte Cassino, where D'Aquino was sent to study as a child and where he stayed before his death
The historic Abbey of Monte Cassino, where D'Aquino was
sent to study as a child and where he stayed before his death
D’Aquino returned to Italy after being appointed theological adviser to the Papal Curia, the body that administered the government of the church. He spent two years at Agnani in Lazio at the end of the reign of Pope Alexander IV and four years at Orvieto with Pope Urban IV. He spent two years teaching at the convent of Santa Sabina in Rome and then, at the request of Pope Clement IV, went to the Papal Curia in Viterbo.

On his return to Paris in 1268, D’Aquino became involved in doctrinal arguments. As an Aristotelian, he believed that truth becomes known through both natural revelation - through human nature and human reasoning - and supernatural revelation - the faith-based knowledge revealed through scripture.

Unlike some Christian philosophers, he saw these two elements as complementary rather than contradictory. He believed that the existence of God and his attributes could be deduced through reason, but that certain specifics - the Trinity and the Incarnation, for example - may be known only through special revelation.

When he returned to Italy in 1272, D’Aquino established a Dominican house of studies at the University of Naples and continued to defend his Aristotelian ideas against the criticisms of other scholars.

The main building at the University of Naples, where D'Aquino set up a Dominican house of studies
The main building at the University of Naples, where
D'Aquino set up a Dominican house of studies
He was personally summoned by Pope Gregory X to the second Council of Lyons in 1274 but became ill on the journey.

While riding a donkey along the Appian Way he is thought to have struck his head against the branch of a tree. He was taken to Monte Cassino to convalesce and after resting for a while, he set out on his journey again. However, he fell ill once more and stopped off at the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova, where he died on March 7.

Three years after D'Aquino's death, the Bishops of Paris and Oxford condemned a series of his theses as heretical, in that they contradicted the orthodox theology which considered human reason inadequate to understand the will of God. As a result, he was excommunicated posthumously.

However, he reputation was rebuilt over time and he was canonised a saint in 1323 by Pope John XXII, officially named Doctor of the Church in 1567 and proclaimed the Protagonist of Orthodoxy at the end of the 19th century. Many schools and colleges throughout the world have been named after him.

His remains were at first placed in the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse but were later moved to the Basilique de Saint-Sernin in Toulouse. In 1974 his remains were returned to the Church of the Jacobins where they have stayed ever since.

An aerial view of Roccasecca, the town of D'Aquino's  birth in the Frosinone province in Lazio
An aerial view of Roccasecca, the town of D'Aquino's
birth in the Frosinone province in Lazio
Travel tip:

Roccasecca, D’Aquino’s birthplace, is a town in the province of Frosinone in the Lazio region of central Italy. It is within an area known as Ciociaria by Italians, a name derived from the word ciocie, the footwear worn by the inhabitants in years gone by. Ciociaria hosts food fairs, events and music festivals as well as celebrating traditional feasts, when the local people wear the regional costume and the typical footwear, ciocie.

Hotels in Roccasecca by Booking.com

Travel tip:

The Abbey of Fossanova, where D’Aquino died, is a Cistercian monastery near the railway station of Priverno, about 100 kilometres south-east of Rome. The Abbey dates from around 1135 and is one of the finest example or early Gothic architecture in Italy. Priverno’s patron saint is Saint Thomas Aquinas.

More reading:

Monte Cassino Abbey destroyed by Allies in the Second World War

How bravery of Clare of Assissi was recognised after her death

When the funeral of a nurse brought the city of Rome to a standstill

Also on this day:

1785: The birth of the novelist Alessandro Manzoni

15 February 2017

Destruction of Monte Cassino Abbey

Historic monastery flattened in Allied bombing raid



An American B17 bomber shortly after releasing its payload over Monte Cassino
An American B17 bomber shortly after
releasing its payload over Monte Cassino
The Abbey of Monte Cassino, established in 529 and the oldest Benedictine monastery in the world, was destroyed by Allied bombers on this day in 1944 in what is now acknowledged as one of the biggest strategic errors of the Second World War on the Allied side.

The Abbey was attacked despite an agreement signed by both sides with the Vatican that the historic building would be respected as occupying neutral territory.

But Allied commanders, who had seen their infantrymen suffer heavy casualties in trying to advance along the Liri valley, the route of the main highway between Naples and Rome, were convinced that the Germans were using the Abbey, which commands sweeping views of the valley, at least as a point from which to direct operations.

This perception was reinforced by a radio intercept, subsequently alleged to have been wrongly translated, which suggested a German battalion had been stationed in the Abbey, ignoring a 300-metre area around it that was supposed to be out of bounds to soldiers on both sides.

What remained of the abbey after four hours of sustained bombing by American planes had stopped
What remained of the abbey after four hours of sustained
bombing by American planes had stopped
Knowing that attacking a historic and religiously sensitive target would divide public opinion, particularly among their Catholic populations, military sources in Britain and the United States leaked details of their suspicions to the newspapers, who obligingly printed stories that seemed to justify the plan. On Valentine's Day, 1944, leaflets were fired towards the Abbey and the nearby town of Cassino to warn residents and monks of what was coming.

The raid began at 9.24am the following day as the Abbey was bathed in wintry morning sunshine.  It continued for more than four hours in what was the biggest sustained attack on a single building of the entire war and, many have contended, the greatest aesthetic disaster of the conflict.

Fortunately, many of the art treasures contained in the Abbey had already been removed to safety in Rome by two far-sighted German officers, including paintings by Titian, El Greco and Goya, along with tens of thousands of books and manuscripts. They had been transferred to the Vatican in more than 100 truckloads the year before, although some did end up in Germany.

Parts of the abbey were almost completely destroyed,  although many art treasures had been removed
Parts of the abbey were almost completely destroyed,
although many art treasures had been removed
But nothing could be done to save the frescoed walls of the building itself.  In all, 229 American bombers, arriving in wave after wave, dropped 1,150 tons of high explosives and incendiaries, reducing the entire top of the 488 metre (1,600 feet) mountain to a mass of smouldering rubble.

The 79-year-old Abbot, Gregorio Diamare, escaped, along with the other monks, some of whom hid in the underground vaults. But 230 refugees given shelter inside the Abbey were killed.  There were no German casualties.  The German positions above and below the Abbey, outside the neutral zone, were seemingly untouched.  The information passed on from the radio intercept was wrong.  No German troops were inside the building, nor had been, although it was more than two decades before the mistake was fully acknowledged.

To make matters worse, the bombardment created for the Germans a superb defensive position among the ruins.

There had been a plan for Allied troops to storm the site in the aftermath of the bombing but communications between the Air Force commanders and the Army on the ground were poor and it is thought the raid was launched to take advantage of good weather with no consideration of the readiness of the follow-up plan.

As it was, essential supplies and equipment had not reached the valley and some of the soldiers who were ready to attack were forced to withdraw after stray bombs hit their positions.

As a result, the Germans were able to take control of the ruined site and create the strategic stronghold the Allies had thought they were destroying.

The Abbey of Monte Cassino after it had been rebuilt  in the 1950s following the original plans
The Abbey of Monte Cassino after it had been rebuilt
in the 1950s following the original plans
Pope Pius XII made no public comment about the destruction of the Abbey but his Cardinal Secretary of State, Luigi Maglione, denounced it as "a colossal blunder, a piece of a gross stupidity."

The Allies did eventually capture Monte Cassino but it took them until May 18, when soldiers from the Polish II Corps planted a Polish flag among the ruins, the only remaining Germans being those who lay wounded.  However, the cost was high, Allied casualties numbering 55,000 from a total of four assaults, compared with 20,000 on the German side.

Travel tip:

After the Second World War, the Abbey of Monte Cassino was painstakingly rebuilt based on the original plans, paid for in part by the Vatican and in part by what could be raised in an international appeal.  Today, it is again a working monastery and continues to be a pilgrimage site, housing as it does the surviving relics of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. It also serves as a shrine to the 183,000 killed in the area around it.

Hotels in Cassino by Booking.com

The Commonwealth Cemetery in Cassino with the abbey on top of the mountain in the background
The Commonwealth Cemetery in Cassino with the abbey
on top of the mountain in the background
Travel tip:

There are two major war cemeteries close to Monte Cassino. At the Cassino War Cemetery, some 4,271 Common- wealth servicemen killed are buried or commem- orated.  The graves of more than 1,000 Poles and 200 Belarusians can be found within a separate Polish Cemetery, including that of General Wladyslaw Anders, who commanded the Polish force that finally captured Monte Cassino.

More reading:

How Italy entered the Second World War

Mussolini's last stand

Alcide de Gasperi begins to rebuild Italy

Also on this day:

1564: The birth of Galileo Galilei