Sacro Speco

Holy Grotto - Grotta della Preghiera - Shrine of the Sacred Cave of St. Benedict

Useful Information

Location: Subiaco, at the slopes of Mount Taleo. 78 km east of Rome, 5 km from Subiaco.
Open: All year daily 9-12:30, 15-18:30.
Mass: Sun 8, Hol 9, 10, 11.
Fee: free [2006]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave. SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: A=400 m asl.
Guided tours:
Address: PP. Benedettini, Monastero Sacro Speco, Via S. Benedetto, snc, 00028 Subiaco (Roma), Tel: +39-0774-85039. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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480 Benedict born at Nursia.
~500 Benedict lived in the cave for three years.
1657 Statue of St. Benedict created by Antonio Raggi.


Sacro Speco is a holy cave, where Benedict of Nursia, later Saint Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine order, lived for three years as a hermit.

The life of St. Benedict is not very well documented. There is only one true biography, written by St. Gregory, the Pope, in his second book of theDialogues. He did not know Benedict personally, but he was told about him by four different witnesses. All other stories about Benedict are Christian legend. Benedict was born (probably) at Nursia in 480 AD, a small town near Spoleto, as son of a Roman noble. As a boy he lived with his parents in Rome, attended schools and graduated. But instead of making a career as a nobleman, and leaving all the wealth of his father behind him, he left his family looking for a place where he might serve God.

Now the story becomes miraculous. He took his old nurse with him as a servant, and they first lived in Enfide, about 55 km from Rome. This woman borrowed an earthenware wheat-sifter (capisterium) which she accidentally broke. He was very sorrow for her and restored it to perfect condition by a miracle. But this made him famous and many people visited him, and so he decided to flee secretly. At Enfide, at the border of a high mountain range, a narrow valley into the mountains started, leading to Subiaco. Here lies the villa of Emperor Nero, which still existed when Benedict lived. There was a dammed lake above the villa, which later broke and destroyed the whole building.

At the vila the path winded up the steep walls of valley to a vertical cliff, 150 m above the lake, with a monastery on top and a cave at its foot. Here he met the monk Romanus who lived at the monastery. The cave had a large triangular-shaped opening and was about three metre deep. He decided to live here as a hermit, only visited by Romanus who brought him food. In the following three years he lived and prayed in the cave and matured both in mind and character.

After three years Benedict was asked by the monks of a nearby monastery whose old abbot had died, some say it was Vicovaro, to become their abbot. The problem was that the life of a hermit and the life of a monk were different. Benedict knew this, so he first refused, but after their continuous entreaty, he gave his consent. But the experiment failed and finally the monks tried to poison him. Benedict returned into his cave.

The miracles continued and the number of people who visited him for help or advice increased. For those who wished to stay, he built thirteen monasteries in the valley. In twelve, he placed a superior with twelve monks, in the thirteenth he lived himself with some monks. This was the birth of the Benedictine Rule and the Benedictine Order.

The cave where Benedict lived, commonly called Sacro Speco (Holy Cave), is also called Grotta della Preghiera. It is today completely covered by a church, and contains a small statue of St. Benedict, created by Antonio Raggi, a disciple Bernini, in 1657.

Below the chapel Cappella della Madonna is the Grotta dei Pastori (Cave of the Shepherds). There is a legend that Benedict met here with the shepards of the area to tell them the truth of Faith. So this cave has become a symbol for the order, who did the same in the world. A monument remembers the great Benedictine Apostles.