Grottaferrata and Santo Lucà

Greek meets Latin in Grottaferrata.

Grottaferrata is a town in the Alban Hills twenty kilometers south-southeast of Rome. Its primary claim to fame is its exarchic monastery of St. Mary, which was established in 1004 and has been continually in operation ever since. The land was donated to St. Nilus the Younger, the first “hegumen” or abbot, by Gregory, Count of Tusculum. Count Gregory is not remembered so much for what he did as for whom he sired. He is the only man in the history of the world who can claim to be the father of two popes, Benedict VIII (1012-1024) and John XIX (1024-1032). He is also the grandfather of the notorious Pope Benedict IX.

The monastery in Grottaferrata is run by Basilian monks. Unlike the other orders of monks in the Roman Church, the Basilians have long been associated with the Greeks. This particular monastery is unique in that the priests there still perform religious ceremonies using the ancient Greek rites, not the Roman rites. Nevertheless, they have always stayed in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The monks have toiled for centuries to end the schism between the two Churches. Despite their efforts, the break has endured since 1054. How the break occurred is addressed here.

My interest in the monastery can be traced to my fascination with Pope Benedict IX. Although he was pope for approximately fourteen years, and his is the only name that is on the roster of popes more than once, very little of substance is known about him. He was supposedly very young (one chronicler claimed that he was only ten!) at the time that he became pope, and his behavior as pope was reportedly execrable. However, the reliability of all of these reports is low, and historically verified information about his pontificate is sparse indeed, even in comparison with his immediate predecessors and successors. We do not even know when he was born, and speculation abounds as to what happened to him after he was driven from the papacy in 1048.

I had read that the monastery in Grottaferrata, which is quite close to Pope Benedict’s ancestral home of Tusculum, once had in its possession an inscription that indicated that Benedict and two of his brothers had joined the monastery and become monks and that Benedict had died at Grottaferrata. Apparently the evidence of this was destroyed in World War II, during which time the monastery was bombed by American aircraft.

On October 1, 2011, my traveling companions and I hired a driver to take us to the Alban Hills for the day. It was my idea, of course. I did not know what to expect, but I wanted to see both Tusculum (which was leveled by the Romans in April of 1191) and Grottaferrata. It was a major disappointment. I discovered that Tusculum is now basically a park that surrounds an archeological site that has discovered remains of the Roman town from the imperial days a millennium before the era of my interest. We arrived at Grottaferrata just as the monastery and church were being locked up for the daily riposo, which lasts over two hours. I visited the museum there, but the exhibit only covered the celebration of the 900th anniversary of the monastery back in 1904. I considered requesting that we return to Grottaferrata after lunch, but other considerations made that impractical.

I recently came across a 46-page pdf file on the Internet written by Santo Lucà entitled “GRAECO-LATINA DI BARTOLOMEO IUNIORE, EGUMENO DI GROTTAFERRATA († 1055 ca.)?”. I knew that Bartholomew the Younger was a protege of St. Nilus, and he had been the hegumen of the monastery throughout the pontificate of Pope Benedict IX. In fact, he was considered to be a close confidante of the pontiff. The manuscript concerns the work of an anonymous scholiast, who, according to Professor Lucà, lived and worked in Grottaferrata in the second half of the eleventh century. The ancient author, as part of his duties as a copyist, added his own opinions in the margins of the folios that he was assigned to transcribe.

For the last few weeks I have been struggling to translate the paper. Prof. Lucà, who is one year older than I am, works in the field of Greek paleography, which is about as obscure as it gets, at a university in Rome. He has been able to identify the place and time of the scholia based on historical referents and on the style of handwriting used by the author. I did not even know that this field existed.

As I read through the paper, it became obvious to me that Prof. Lucà had read and analyzed quite a few scholia. Almost all of them were housed either in the Vatican Library or the monastery of Grottaferrata itself. So, Professor Lucà, on a daily basis, seems to have unfettered access to information about this extremely obscure but eventful period that virtually no one else has seen for centuries. Moreover, he has the knowledge and tools to make sense of it. How I envy him!

I wish that I had discovered this before we went to Italy. I might have been able to schedule a meeting with him. Perhaps no more would have come of it than our ill-fated trip to the Alban Hills, but there are a hundred questions that I would love to ask him.

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