Norcia Close to Epicenter of Devastating Earthquake in Central Italy

By EDWARD PENTIN on National Catholic Register

Rescue efforts taking place in Amatrice. The town's mayor has said half the town "isn't there anymore."

Rescue efforts taking place in Amatrice. The town’s mayor has said half the town “isn’t there anymore.”

Like many in Rome, I was awoken at around 3.30 this morning as the top floor apartment I was staying in gently swayed from an earthquake tremor for about 30 seconds, setting off car alarms. A slightly gentler aftershock followed about half an hour later.

It was ominously similar to the earthquake that struck L’Aquila in 2009 which resulted in 309 people losing their lives and which we also felt in the Eternal City.

As then, I knew that Rome would escape largely unscathed, but places close to the epicenter would not be so fortunate. Little did I know that the quake struck very close to Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict. I had only left the town the day before.

So far, the magnitude 6.2 earthquake has left 38 people in the region dead and 150 missing according to news reports. Many of the victims were in Accumoli and Amatrice — towns which have been devastated by the quake and which are only 20-30 miles from Norcia.

Pope Francis shelved his prepared general audience catechesis today and instead led pilgrims in praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary for the victims.

“On hearing the news of the earthquake that has struck central Italy and which has devastated many areas and left many wounded, I cannot fail to express my heartfelt sorrow and spiritual closeness to all those present in the zones afflicted,” the Pope said Aug. 24. He offered his condolences to all who have lost loved ones, and his expressed his spiritual closeness to those who are “anxious and afraid.”

Norcia has become particularly well known in recent years because of the American Benedictine monks who re-founded the monastery there in 2000. In a statement posted on their Facebook page, the monks assured the public they were OK but highlighted the many injured, especially in the small mountain villages.

“Please pray for them,” they said. “We monks will do what we can to contribute here on the ground, but we’ll need your spiritual support in a special way during this period.”

They added: “We, as many others in Norcia and surrounding areas, suffered a lot of damage to our buildings and especially to our basilica. It will take some time to assess the extent of the damage, but it is very sad to see the many beautiful restorations we’ve made to St. Benedict’s birthplace reduced, in a moment, to disrepair.” The monks have most recently been restoring some of the side chapels of the basilica.

To the question of what can the public to do help, they wrote: “Please, pray for us, for those who have lost their lives, who have lost someone they love, who have lost their homes and livelihoods. We will need your help, as always but now in a special way, to start the project of rebuilding. Please consider making a gift to help us get started.”

I hope to return to Norcia soon and will give an update on the latest from there.

Update 3.23 p.m.:

The Vatican has said that “as a concrete sign of the Holy Father’s closeness to those affected by the earthquake, a team of six members of Vatican City’s Firefighting Corps left this morning for Amatrice.” It added that the team will work in accordance with Italy’s Civil Protection in the search and rescue of victims.


Naturally, this tragic news has also been taken up by all other media networks. For further reports please see here, here, and here.

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10 Responses to Norcia Close to Epicenter of Devastating Earthquake in Central Italy

  1. mmvc says:

    From the Norcia Benedictines via Fr Z’s blog:

    Dear Friends,

    Many of you have by now heard of the earthquake that struck us during the night. The quake was a powerful one with a magnitude of 6.2. We’ve taken the past few hours to assess the situation.

    First: We are OK. We are alive, and there are no serious injuries to report. Sadly, there are many injuries to report among the people of the region, especially those in small mountain villages. Please pray for them. We monks will do what we can to contribute here on the ground, but we’ll need your spiritual support in a special way during this period.

    Second: We, as many others in Norcia and surrounding areas, suffered a lot of damage to our buildings and especially to our basilica. It will take some time to assess the extent of the damage, but it is very sad to see the many beautiful restorations we’ve made to St. Benedict’s birthplace reduced, in a moment, to disrepair.

    Third: What can you do? Please, pray for us, for those who have lost their lives, who have lost someone they love, who have lost their homes and livelihoods. We will need your help, as always but now in a special way, to start the project of rebuilding. Please consider making a gift to help us get started.

    The Monks of Norcia

    And this from Hilary White via OnePeterFive:

    Hilary White reports in from Norcia. She writes:

    I’m fine, as are all the monks and guests and as far as I know, all the Nursini. Picked the worst possible day to not bother recharging my phone. I’ve had a dozen text messages, some from very far away, and I can’t respond to any of them. Sorry if I gave people a fright.

    I’ve never in my life heard such a terrifying noise. As a child of the Cold War, the first thing that popped into my sleep-addled brain was … well…
    there was no flash, so…

    That thought changed swiftly to “Oh, it’s an earthquake.” Then I remembered where I was and that in this part of the world earthquakes are a very bad thing. I was curled into a ball with my arms over my head and praying the roof didn’t come down on me. But my house is stone and is well out of town, and survived the big quake of ’97, so I was fine.

    By the time I’d checked the house and the kitties (they’re fine too, slept through the whole thing,) there were already cars heading down the hill to town. There was one really big aftershock, and I decided to go down too. When I got to the piazza there were already a couple hundred people there, including all the monks. We were asked to stay away from the church and the monastery, and there were quite a few very scary aftershocks. During one, the stone of the piazza felt a bit like standing on a trampoline. We all gathered in the middle of the piazza while I watched the statues and the big stone cross on top of the Basilica waving back and forth, but nothing more fell. We’ve been having aftershocks pretty steadily.

    No one was hurt as far as we know so far in Norcia, and the damage in town was mostly superficial. The fire department shut the gas off all over town, so there were no fires.

    Of course, since then we’ve learned that other towns, particularly Accumoli and Amatrice have been hit very much worse and that people have died and are missing. Esp. please pray for the people they’ve found in Accumoli who are shouting for help but are buried.

    The monks are all OK. There was a fair bit of damage to the plaster work in the church, much of which is now on the floor, and the monastery will have to be inspected for damage. There are engineers in Italy who specialize in this work.

    Laudes was sun g in the crypt church this morning, because it was thought to be the safest place. Indeed, it’s stone vault design has withstood earthquakes since the 2nd century BC. I must say, that’s an experience I won’t forget soon: singing the Divine Office of Laudes for the Feast of St. Bartholomew. No one skipped a beat when the aftershock shook us during the Magnificat.

    We’ve been feeling aftershocks pretty steadily, but so far no really big ones since about 5:30 am. We think it’s probably mostly over as I write this at eight thirty am. The quake was at 3:35.

    The town now has the job of inspecting all the public buildings to assess the damage. But people mostly stayed home. There were only a couple hundred people in the piazza. Of course, structural damage is going to be harder to see, but for the moment, the monks are back in their monastery.

  2. johnhenrycn says:

    Thank you for posting Hilary’s report, mmvc. When I heard about this earthquake, I thought about her, but couldn’t remember her name from back last October when she set up a temporary blog to report on the *Synod*, which was so informative (Hilary, not the Synod) that I sent her a donation in appreciation for her efforts.

  3. mmvc says:

    Hilary was on my mind too when I heard the awful news this morning, JH.
    Here she gives a much fuller account of her experience of the earthquake in Nursia:
    http://whatisupwiththesynod.com/index.php/2016/08/24/6-2/

  4. mmvc says:

    Ann Barnhardt makes an interesting point on her blog about the epicentre of the quake being in Norcia:

    Earthquake In Norcia, Italy
    There was an earthquake overnight in Italy, the epicenter, to my and so many other folks’ initial horror, was Norcia, Italy, where the Benedictine monks who make the spectacular beer and chant the entire Divine Office publicly, are located.

    Miraculously, despite the epicenter of the initial quake (6.2 magnitude), and the 40 aftershocks, with many of those being in the 4.0-5.5 range, being within just a few miles of Norcia, reports are that Norcia took only minor, superficial damage, mostly fallen plaster and some light masonry damage. Some houses took zero damage – not even fallen plaster or broken glassware. That is simply incredible for being the epicenter of a 6.2.

    Sadly, other towns nearby, worst among them a town called Amatrice, have taken heavy damage, with the death toll now over 20.

    I’ll say it right now: I believe that those monks and their chanting of the Divine Office and their daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Venerable Gregorian Rite put a hedge of protection over the town of Norcia. I believe Norcia and its inhabitants were spared what should have been, by all scientific appearances, catastrophic damage.

    http://www.barnhardt.biz/2016/08/24/earthquake-in-norcia-italy/

  5. Tom Fisher says:

    I don’t know whether or not mmvc is right, or not. A lot of people are dead, I pray they are received by God. Ann Barnhardt is her very self.

  6. kathleen says:

    It is a heart-wrenching tragedy occurring in the centre of this beautiful country. One of my greatest of horrors is the thought of being buried alive. Fervent prayers are being offered that those still trapped beneath the rubble of their destroyed homes will be pulled out before it is too late.

    This unexpected fatal disaster brings to mind in a very vivid manner our post from Father Z of the other day,”Why Fr. Z harasses you to GO TO CONFESSION“, for truly one really never knows if one’s life is going to be snatched from you in a split second and we will be face to face before our Eternal destination. May those poor people who have lost their lives so suddenly in this terrible earthquake have been in a state of grace and receive God’s forgiveness and mercy for their immortal souls.

  7. Tom Fisher says:

    This unexpected fatal disaster brings to mind in a very vivid manner our post from Father Z of the other day,”Why Fr. Z harasses you to GO TO CONFESSION“, for truly one really never knows if one’s life is going to be snatched from you in a split second and we will be face to face before our Eternal destination

    Yes, yes indeed. None of us go to Confession enough. I certainly don’t — it’s difficult. But essential

  8. mmvc says:

    Tom, @ 11.35, I’m not sure either whether Ann is right or not about the epicentre, Norcia, being spared (apart from some relatively minor damage) by a miracle. But I do believe in the power of prayer and by all accounts the Benedictine monastery of Norcia is a power house of prayer.

    Yes, Ann is indeed very much herself. She ends her post which I linked to with these words:

    “And don’t forget to pray for the dead and the survivors of the towns badly damaged over in Italy.

    And go to confession. Those folks went to bed last night not knowing that they would stand before Christ at their Particular Judgment just a few hours later. It is sobering, to say the least.

    Christ, have mercy.”

  9. johnhenrycn says:

    A video from a 1997 earthquake in Assisi that wrought terrible damage on the cathedral there. Four people, including two monks, were caught when the ceiling fell.

  10. kathleen says:

    Terrifying images, JH. And so devastating for all pilgrims who had visited this exquisite church in Assisi before the 1997 earthquake. I was there in 2001 when repairs were still underway, but some of the damage was irreplaceable; ancient artistic treasures lost forever.

    The newest devastating earthquake in Umbria is still bringing us tragic news of the loss of so many lives – may God have mercy on the souls of the victims. According to the latest reports there is little likelihood of finding any more trapped people still alive under the tons of rubble.

    Beautiful old towns have been all but flattened in a matter of seconds; homes and livelihoods lost. It is heartbreaking. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Italy at this time.

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