After two years of bureaucratic delays and differences between local citizens and their bishop, public pressure has appeared to ensure that the basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia will be rebuilt as it was before a devastating earthquake almost totally destroyed it on Oct. 30, 2016. 

Originally constructed over the birthplace of St. Benedict of Norcia in the 14th century, the basilica will be restored to its “original appearance and so look exactly as it was before the earthquake,” Marica Mercalli, superintendent of Umbrian fine arts, told the Italian news agency, ANSA Nov. 16. 

The news is a relief to the local people of Norcia, most of whom were concerned about earlier proposals, favored by local bishop, Archbishop Renato Boccardo of Spoleto-Norcia, to reconstruct the basilica in a modern architectural style. But some remain cautious and are awaiting further reassurance as rubble still needs to be removed from the basilica, and restoration is likely to be years away.

Archbishop Boccardo had in mind opening up the reconstruction project to an international competition and to rebuild the basilica “together with something of today." The earthquake, he said in April, “leaves a mark, in people but also in architecture.” 

He added that “to remake everything as before would be to erase history. Why do we have to erase the signs of this earthquake?” The archbishop conceded that what remained of the facade, part of the left nave and apse should be safeguarded, but asked: “Why not find some ideas for keeping them along with something new?” 

However, a petition against the modern plans, which the locals described as “bizarre projects” of steel that appeared to wish to be “modern at all costs,” obtained over 2,000 signatures by May of this year. 

The signatories stated that the people of Norcia wanted the basilica “rebuilt as it was, with full respect for tradition and the beauty of Norcia,” adding that they rejected “incomprehensible modern solutions” that were “especially unwanted.” They also said they rejected those “who do not recognize the place of tradition in the heart of the population.”

Some modern aspects will be incorporated into the new structure, but these will involve “the best techniques and contemporary materials, so as to ensure maximum safety” and make the basilica “earthquake-proof,” according to ANSA. 

Reconstruction will be largely funded by a €10 million ($11.4 million) grant from the European Union, and overseen by Professor Antonio Paolucci, a former director of the Vatican Museums.

Norcia has long been popular with pilgrims wishing to venerate St. Benedict, the founder of Western monasticism and a patron of Europe, whose Rule became one of the most significant influences on Western Christendom and culture. 

The Monks of Norcia, an international Benedictine community of monks founded by American Benedictine Father Cassian Folsom in 2000, had been using the basilica for daily worship, but were forced by the earthquake to relocate to an old monastic grange on the town’s outskirts.  

More than 350 churches in the archdiocese were damaged or completely destroyed in two strong earthquakes which struck the region on Aug. 24 and Oct. 30, 2016.  

Inset photos: The basilica of St. Benedict, taken 10 minutes after the Oct. 30 earthquake; scaffolding around the facade of the basilica (www.blog.messainlatino.it). 

This article has been updated.