.- A large earthquake struck the central Italian town of Norcia this morning, leveling the Basilica of St. Benedict and several other buildings in the town.
The earthquake, which occurred around 7:40 a.m. local time, had a magnitude of 6.6 on the Richter scale, making it larger than the 6.2-magnitude quake which hit near the towns of Norcia and Amatrice on Aug. 24.
The Basilica of St. Benedict, built between 1290 and 1338 was located on what is traditionally held as the birthplace of St. Benedict and his twin sister, St. Scholastica. A bell tower built in the 14th century was damaged in an earthquake in 1703 and replaced by a smaller tower. The church had undergone a complete renovation in the 18th century, and contained many valuable paintings and frescos.
Born in Norcia to upper-class parents during the year 480, St. Benedict became the founder of the Benedictine rule and is known as the “Father of Western Monasticism.” He is also one of the co-patron saints of Europe.
The Benedictine Monks of Norcia, the caretakers of the Basilica, reported on Twitter that the monks were safe and were searching for those who may be in need of last rites, but the Basilica was destroyed.October 30, 2016
The Monks of Norcia released a statment following the earthquake, saying that the monks were safe and that their first priority was those victims who might be in need of last rites.
"The monks are all safe, but our hearts go immediately to those affected, and the priests of the monastery are searching for any who may need the Last Rites," they said.
"The Basilica of St. Benedict, the historic church built atop the birthplace of St. Benedict, was flattened by this most recent quake. May this image serve to illustrate the power of this earthquake, and the urgency we monks feel to seek out those who need the Sacraments on this difficult day for Italy."
As caretakers of the Basilica, the monks have already set up a fund to help with the reconstruction of the church, which can be found at: http://en.nursia.org/donations/
Several injuries but no fatalities have been reported thus far, as many locals, including the monks, were evacuated from the town after previous earthquakes in August and October.
The aftershocks of the earthquake were felt in the capital of Rome and as far north as Venice.October 30, 2016
Pope Francis prayed for all those affected by the earthquake after his Angelus address Sunday morning, asking the Blessed Virgin Mary to watch over the victims.
This piece was updated at 1:04 p.m.