It’s rare enough for a classical music recording to gain wide popular and critical success, but since its release this summer, Benedicta: Marian Chant by the Monks of Norcia has claimed the top spot on Billboard’s classical charts for ten weeks in a row—recently and remarkably, the album pulled ahead of Taylor Swift and Sam Smith, becoming Amazon’s top-selling recording.
So what is it about this music and performance? While there have been other albums of chant, this collection offers, in liturgical terms, something unusual. “The repertoire is organized according to the feasts of Mary,” says Father Cassian, who heads the Benedictine monastery in the Italian medieval walled town of Norcia, in Umbria. The monks, who hail from the United States. and Italy, Indonesia and Brazil, sing this chant as part of daily devotions. Their familiarity is thorough.
And what about Norcia? “Travelers come to the town for three reasons: its beautiful setting on the edge of a national park, for its food, including truffles, prosciutto, and cheese, and for spiritual pilgrimage,” says Cassian. Travelers also come to Norcia for Birra Nursia, the craft beer which the monks produce. In the fall, it will be exported to the U.S., but go to Italy. It tastes better there.