The Sack of San Vincenzo Al Volturno
Richard Hodges unites oral tradition and archaeological evidence to reconstruct the story of the Dark Age destruction of an Italian monastery
‘They ... suddenly attacked the sacred monastery in a frontal assault, what brings so much destruction; and surrounding it on all sides they set it on fire, and they also put to the sword the holy elders they found there ... and so the blood of the holy monks which was shed for Christ is still there, providing clear evidence even today, as the rocks and stones of the church there were smeared spattered with it ...'
The planctus recounting the sack of the Benedictine monastery of San Vincenzo al Volturno in 881 is still sung in the abbey on October 10th each year. The neums dotted across a page of the twelfth-century Chronicon Vulturnense offer little idea of how it was actually sung in the high Middle Ages, though musicologists have attempted to reconstruct it as a Gregorian Chant. Rather like a folk song recounting an ancient injustice, the planctus reminded the twelfth-century listener of the calamitous fate dealt to the monastery: