The Center or the St. Augustine Historical-Cultural Association
The Park of st. Augustine in Cassago
The town or community of Cassago Brianza, formerly Cassiciacum or Augustine's towná
In Book IX of the Confessions, Augustine writes of bis decision to renounce his career as a teacher of rhetoric. He notes that it was just "... a few days ... before the vintage holidays, ... "(IX, 2) He also makes the decision to retire to the country with some of his relatives and friends and describes their initial preparation as a time when "... we climbed Irom the valley of weeping singing our pilgrim-song ... " (Book IX, 2) Learning of that decision, his friend, Verecundus, not yet a Christian himself, " ... kindly suggested that as long as were there we should stay on his estate." This offer prompted Augustine to remember Verecundus when years later, writing the Confessions to pray: "Because you are faithful to your promises you are even now rewarding Verecundus for the country house of his at Cassiciacum, where we found rest in you from the hurly-burly of the world." (Book IX, 5)
The year 386 was a very significant year both far Augustine's intellectual and spiritual development and growth. In August, he has what has come to be called the "Tolle Lege, Tolle Lege" experience in a garden. Now, a few months later, he spent a kind of vintage vacation at Cassiciacum, a rural retreat near Milan, generously offered to him by bis friend, Verecundus, a grammarian of Milan and his colleague there. Augustine had come to Cassiciacum seeking hours of rest and peace to prepare himself for his baptism. Far from the tumult of the world, his mind was free from the cares that spring from ambition for honors, from the acquisition of reaches and from the pursuit of pleasures. While at Cassiciacum, Augustine wrote a few small books. At the end of bis lire, he wrote a book called Retractationes, containing a record and a personal criticai review of bis prolific literary career.
In that work, he tells us about bis writing of De Beata Vita (On the Happy Life).:. "It was written noi after but between the books, Contra Academicos. It originated on the occasion of my birthday (November 13) as it clearly indicated in the book itself; and was consummated during a three days' conversation. " (Retractationes) Towards the conclusion of Cheaper 1 of De Beata Vita, Augustine writes: "On the Ides of November fell my birthday. After a light breakfast enough not to impede our powers of thinking, I asked all those of us who, not only on that day but every day, were living together to bave a congenial session in the bathing quarters, a quiet place for the season. Assembled there - for without hesitation I present them to your kindness, thought only by name – were first, our mother, to whose merit, in my opinion, I owe everything that I live; my brother Navigius, Trygetius and Licentius, fellow citizens and my pupils; Lastidianus and Rusticus, relatives of mine, ... Also my son, Adeodatus, the youngest of all, was with us, who promises great success, unless my love deceives me. " (De Beata Vita, 1, 6) á
Cassago Brianza, affectionately referred to as 'Cittadella Agostiniana' is a small town some sixty kilometers northeast of Milan, on the way to the Lake Como area. It is the supposed sight of Augustine's CASSICIACUM. It is a small town close to the foothills of the Alps with a beautiful view of snowcapped mountains. The patron saint of the town is St. Augustine of Hippo. á
In Augustine's time, the area was known as Rus Cassiciacum. It was one of those shelters and the first in a series of places where Augustine sought to live a retired life. He arrived there by traveling the Via Busa, a Roman street leading from Milan to the still wild countryside which today is called Brianza. It was a difficult journey but not an impossible one. The Roman roads were well kept and secure if noi totally comfortable and the distance could be covered between one and two days depending on the means of transportation. á Roman politicians and merchants often went to the countryside, away form political and business activities, to find solace from the public life often felt as irreparable corrupted. In the countryside, they kept villae, large houses often surrounded by meadows, fields and groves, where the educated Roman could retire to a quite life of studies and meditation, The Romans called this retired life ‘Otium’ as opposed to the public life, ‘Negotium’.
After leaving Milan and the splendors of the Imperial Roman Court, Augustine came to such a place, to Cassiciacum, where he sought to live a Christianae vitae otium, a life that would lead to the serene meditation of the Roman scholar but suffused with the Christian values and beliefs to which Augustinian had recently converted. á Not much remains of the physical site that was once Cassiciacum and is now Cassago Brianza. Yet, something of an Augustinian presence still lingers in the source that once gave water to the very baths where Augustine discussed the nature of Good with bis friends. Walking up the hill from the archeological park, one can still be awed at the sight of the very mountains Augustine looked upon when reflecting on the reality of the being and existence of God.
Local people still offer a tasted of the very cake Augustine offered to his guests when giving his birthday party. And treading on the hill behind the sixteenth century parish church, one should be conscious that beneath that soil, the old wall of Verecundus’ Villa is there, awaiting only for an archaeologist to bring into the open. After years of studying St. Augustine, a world renowned Augustinian scholar, Father Tarcisius Van Bavel, O.S.A., a member ofthe Augustinian Order's Belgian Province, offered a thought provoking judgment regarding St. Augustine's convictions concerning such themes as FRIENDSHIP, HAPPINESS and COMMUNITY. Van Bavel once said that just as it was essential for a Christian to share the Eucharist in order to enter into authentic friendship with Christ and to nourish Christ-centered friendships with others, it is equally essential for individuals to experience real friendship, happiness and community by gathering together to share a meal.
The Eucharistic table and the common table far a meal are intimately connected. The entire experience of the pilgrimage to Cassago Brianza offers a place and experience where the American pilgrims experience Augustinian-centered love, hospitality and friendship from their Italian sisters and brothers. The pilgrimage begins with the celebration of Eucharist in the parish church; the visit concludes with the meal offered by the Alpini. Both provide a rich opportunity to experience the friendship of community, the happiness of love, and in a word, to bave a vivid reminder of the presence of God in our midst.