Monks of Norcia: Benedictine Brothers Bet on Beer to Overcome Earthquake Devastation

In honor of the July 11 Feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia (a k a Norcia), let’s check in with the Monks of Norcia, who became world-famous for their Gregorian-chant CD, “Benedicta,” which came out in 2015.

But becoming international music superstars didn’t insulate them from the ravages of nature, in the form of powerful earthquakes that struck their region in Umbria in August and October of 2016. Hundreds of people were killed, many more displaced, and the monks’ home, the 14th-century Basilica of St. Benedict, was destroyed.

Here’s how they describe themselves on their Website:

The Monastery of San Benedetto in Monte is perched above the ancient town of Nursia, birthplace of St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism.

The Monks of Norcia, who have called the city home since the year 2000, were forced to begin work on a new, seismic-resistant monastery on site of their old monastic grange when a series of devastating earthquakes destroyed their church and home in town in 2016.

The international community of monks who live there are committed to living according to the ancient observance of the Rule of St. Benedict and understand this otherwise tragic moment in history as a call from God to deepen their vocation as men of prayer, conversion, study and manual labor, and to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

But music alone is not enough to make the monks self-supporting, as is called for in the Rule of Saint Benedict, who wanted his monastics to live by the work of their hands. The Monks of Norcia took up the brewing of beer called Birra Nursia, which landed in the U.S. in the spring of 2016 — only months before the quakes.

Amazingly, the quakes spared the brewery, so the monks are counting on thirsty customers buying in stores and online to help rebuild their monastery and their mission to the surrounding area and the world.

From The New York Times:

Led by Father Folsom, who is the prior emeritus, the monks now number 15. They learned beer-making from experienced Trappist brewmasters in Belgium, and began to make Nursia in 2012. The beer’s name was chosen “specifically to help the townspeople, rather than naming it after St. Benedict,” Father Nivakoff said.

“We wanted people to identify the beer with the town,” and to help support it, he added.

Brother Augustine Wilmeth, who was born in South Carolina and serves as the brewmaster, said Nursia was “the only monastic beer in the world that is made exclusively by the monks.”

Other monastic brewing operations, he explained, have grown into milliondollar enterprises with many workers. In Norcia, the monks do everything themselves, producing around 10,000 bottles each month.

Meet Father Folsom, on EWTN’s “The Journey Home”:

And when you have some extra time, here’s a whole documentary, from the pre-quake days in 2012 …

Here’s to hoping they find the time to produce some more beautiful music for the world.

Images: Courtesy Monks of Norcia

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