Every day in the Basilica of St. Benedict (in the main square of Norcia), at 7.45 p.m. (on the dot), a Benedictine monk – seeking to pass unnoticed - silently nears the stairs leading to the crypt, bordered by a thick red cord. A special moment is about to take place, a moment reserved solely for those “in the know”, not for tourists. Those “in the know”, on entering the basilica, must go over to the stairs on the left-hand side, close to the red cord, and wait.
The secret of the crypt is jealously kept by the monk “with the keys” who, seeking not to attract attention, will near the stairway going down into the heart of the basilica. It is at that moment, in those few seconds, that you will play your possibility of taking part in the “Compline” (night prayer). When he moves the red cord you must ask him for permission to participate – and if his answer is positive, you can consider yourselves fortunate. The monk with the keys will open the doors of the crypt, then immediately closing them after you. The doors of the crypt remain locked for the whole prayer session, which lasts about 30 minutes.
Compline is the very last prayer of the evening, recited in Latin and accompanied by Gregorian chants. The young community of the Benedictine monks of Norcia dedicates it to the patron saint of Europe before retreating into the monastery, then starting their prayers again the next day at 4.30 a.m. with Matins. The Roman stone pillars, the cross vaults, the candle light, and the silence broken only by the voices of the 13 monks, together with the peace conveyed by their expressions, touches one’s soul. (Photos and films cannot be taken unless authorized by the monks. Permission can be requested at the end of Compline for the next time but flashes or instruments making even faint noises can never be used. It is recommended that you follow the whole of Compline seated in the pews.)