Monday, September 28, 2009

Rome's Greek Rite Abbey of St. Nilo Founded in 1004 And Still Here

In the lovely hills of the Colli Albani southeast of Rome is found a quiet little suburb by the name of Grottaferrata, near Castel Gandolfo.  Today we were there for the funeral rites of a friend (see photo). 

There you will find a Byzantine monastery which is one of Rome's best kept secrets - the (Catholic) Greek rite Abbey of St. Nilo (Abbazia Greca di San Nilo) which was founded in 1004.  Today there are just a handful of mostly elderly monks left, but they are the finest men (mostly Italians from Calabria and Sicily, born into Greek rite parishes there). 

The property is owned by the state, is listed as a national treasure and buses of tourists arrive to visit every day.  Every inch of the property has been maintained and preserved.  The monks are Basilian and chant the Divine Liturgy in Greek, with some Italian.  It brings tears to the eyes to hear them sing. 

A year ago last summer I was honored to be a guest of the monks and to stay in the monastery.  Sitting in the refectory I couldn't help but think how the several left were all now elderly.  Now in the past year four of these same monks have passed on.

They were our favorites: Fra Damien who walked from Ukraine to Rome after World War II, Fr. John the economo and Fr. Nilo who heard his last Divine Liturgy on Saturday, the feast of St. Nilo and who died on Sunday (the monks are still buried the day after they die).

Padre Nilo Somma, 83 years old, RIP.  

Perhaps it is your vocation, too?


  1. I read a very sad story about this monastery afew years ago.

    Seems that this monastery of Basilian monks was NEVER huge. It is in fact a small Greek Rite religious Order of the Church, with the monastery of Grottaferrata as it's motherhouse.

    Before Vatican II, there were at most 70 monks, in a handful of monasteries, including about 30 at San Nilo.
    The Order remained very traditional, and had as it's apostolate the work of bringing the light of Catholic Truth to the Orthodox...helping them find their way to the True Faith.
    Well, this noble apostolate held the Order rather stable despite the reforms of Vatican II up until about 1989-90 when, at the instigation of JOHN PAUL II and his cadre of ecumenists, the ancient work of leading the non-believers and the non-Catholics to the light of the Church was changed to that of ecumenism, inter-religious dialog, etc. etc.
    You can see it on their website. The word "ecumenismo" is very prominant. That was NOT their emphasis up until afew years. John Paul II insisted that they change from promoting Catholic Truth, to becoming just another group of wishy-washy ecumenicals.
    The Order, which by then had only about 30 members, lost many of the young monks, who did not go along with the discarding of their original purpose, and a few older ones.
    Now there are only about 12 monks left, all very elderly.

  2. I truly wish I could explore a vocation with them, but as a Latin Rite Catholic, and 33 years old, probably not possible. It saddens me to think they will soon be gone if no one steps up to the plate.

  3. To be a monk here would be a very special experience. If you like to speak Italian, are good with music, can read Greek, can sing, this could be your call.