Subiaco is a town and comune in the Province of Rome, in Lazio, Italy, from Tivoli alongside the river Aniene. It is mainly renowned as a tourist and religious resort for its sacred grotto (Sacro Speco), in the medieval St. Benedict's Abbey, and for the Abbey of St. Scholastica.
At a time when several German monks had been assigned to the monastery, German printers established a printing press in the town. They printed the first books in Italy in the late 15th century.
Ancient settlers of the area were the Aequi, an Italic people. In 304 BC they were conquered by the Romans, who introduced their civilization and took advantage of the waters of the Aniene river. The present name of the city comes from the artificial lakes of the luxurious villa that emperor Nero had built: in Latin Sublaqueum means "under the lake." The name was applied to the town that developed nearby. The biggest of the three Subiaco Dams was the highest dam in the world until its destruction in 1305. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the villa and the town were abandoned, becoming almost forgotten ruins.
When St. Benedict, at the age of fourteen, retired from the world and lived for three years in a cave above the river Anio, he was supplied with the necessaries of life by a monk, St. Roman. From this grotto, St. Benedict developed the concepts and organization of the Benedictine Order. He built twelve monasteries and placed twelve monks in each, including one at the grotto. In 854 a record noted its renovation. In this year, Pope Leo IV is said to have consecrated an altar to Sts. Benedict and Scholastica and another to St. Sylvester. Another renovation took place in 1053 under Abbot Humbert of St. Scholastica. Abbot John V, created cardinal by Pope Gregory VII, made the grotto the terminus of a yearly procession, built a new road, and had the altars reconsecrated.
In 1200 there was a community of twelve, which Innocent III made a priory; John XXII in 1312 appointed a special abbot to the monks. A new road was built by the city in 1688. The sacred grotto is still a favourite pilgrimage. On October 27, 1909, Pius X granted a daily plenary indulgence to those who receive Holy Communion there and pray according to the intention of the Pope (Acta. Ap. Sedis, II, 405).
The Abbey of St. Scholastica, about a mile and a half below the grotto, was built by St. Benedict about 520, and endowed by the Roman patricians, Tertullus and Æquitius. The second abbot, St. Honoratus, changed the old monastery into a chapter room and built a new one, dedicating it to Sts. Cosmas and Damian. It was destroyed by the Lombards in 601 and abandoned for a century. By order of John VII, it was rebuilt by Abbot Stephen and consecrated to Sts. Benedict and Scholastica. Demolished in 840 by the Saracens and again in 981 by the Hungarians, it was rebuilt again.
Benedict VII consecrated the new church, and henceforth the abbey was known by the name St. Scholastica. In 1052, Leo IX came to Subiaco to settle various disputes and to correct abuses; a similar visit was made by Gregory VII. Special favour was shown by Paschal II, who took the abbey from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Tivoli and made it an abbacy nullius. Its temporal welfare was also a care of the popes. Among others, Innocent III at his visit in 1203 increased the revenues of the abbey.
With the decline of religious fervour, strife and dissension arose to such an extent that Abbot Bartholomew in 1364, by command of the pope, had to dismiss some of the incorrigible monks and fill their places with religious from other monasteries. Numerous monks were brought in from Germany, and for many decades Subiaco was a center of German thrift, science, and art. Urban VI (1378–1389) abolished the abbots for life, took away from the monks the right of election, and gave the administration and revenues to a member of the Curia.
The assignment of German monks to Subiaco attracted other Germans. The printers Sweinheim and Pannartz established a printing press in Subiaco and printed Donatus pro parvulis, Lactantius (1465) and De Civitate Dei (1467). Those were the first books to be printed in Italy.
Pope Callixtus III, in 1455, gave the abbey in commendam to a cardinal. The first of these was the Spanish Cardinal Juan de Torquemada and the second Roderigo Borgia (later Alexander VI), who remodeled the Castrum Sublacence, once the summer resort of the popes, and made it the residence of the commendatory abbot. Many of these abbots cared little for the religious life of the monks and looked only for revenue. As an example, Pompeo Colonna, Bishop of Rieti, commendatory abbot since 1506, squandered the goods of the abbey and gave the income to unworthy subjects. On complaint of the community, in 1510 Julius II readjusted matters and restored the monastic possessions. For spiritual benefit, a union had been made between Subiaco and the Abbey of Farfa, but it lasted a short time. In 1514, Subiaco joined the Congregation of St. Justina, whose abbot-general was titular of St. Scholastica, while a cardinal remained commendatory abbot. Even after this union, there were quarrels between Subiaco and Farfa, Subiaco and Monte Cassino, essentially among the Germans and the Italians.
After this little is known from historical records about the abbey and the city until the 19th century. In 1798-1799 and 1810-1814 French troops under Napoleon entered the city, plundering the monasteries and the churches. In 1849 and 1867 Giuseppe Garibaldi conquered the city in his plan to destroy the temporal rule of the Pope and unify Italy: in 1870 the city become definitively part of the Regno d'Italia.
In 1891, a Benedictine abbey founded earlier in western Arkansas, United States, changed its name to Subiaco as part of an effort to more closely align its teachings and practices to those of the famous abbeys of the Italian namesake.
In the first years of the 20th century, the area was improved by national investment in infrastructure, with the connection to a railway, a hydroelectric plant and an aqueduct. Electricity was brought to the houses and a hospital was built. In World War II, Subiaco was bombed by Allied planes.