|Relations with the Church|
Abbot Desiderio, aware that a policy hostile to the new noblemen would undermine the authority and survival of the monastery, assumed the role of mediator between the Normans, the Papacy and the Emperors of Germany and Byzantium. On the part of the Normans there was an attitude of respect towards the Cassino abbey, and a series of donations represented a return for Desiderio’s pro-Norman policy. The relations between the Normans and the Church became increasingly close, especially after the Pope’s defeat at Civitate. The consequences are also evident from the close ties that developed between the new administrative units and the dioceses.
The pilgrimage routes that ran both North-South along the ancient sheep-tracks and West-East along the river valleys represented important elements in the history of Molise during the Norman period. In the valley of the river Tigno, the Benedictines founded the church of St. Mary in the vicinity of a Roman villa, while at the mouth of the river there existed until 1125 the monastery of St. Stephen in rivo maris. In the valley of the river Biferno, in an area where ancient remains from Roman times still endure, was erected the abbey of Casalpiano. The church of St. Mary of Melanico was built in the valley of the river Fortore, not far from the remains of a Roman villa. The flow of traffic was principally bound for the sanctuary of Mount S.Angelo on the Gargano, where, according to tradition, one of the first meetings (1015) between the Normans returning from the Holy Land and a group of Apulian noblemen resolved to rid themselves of the Byzantine domination took place.
The Normans, with the protection of the Church, conquered a large portion of southern Italy, and in the Sicilian war against the Mussulmen displayed the early characteristics of a crusader movement. One of the results of the First Crusade was the conquest of Antioch (1098) by Bohemond, son of Robert Guiscard, and the establishment of the first crusader princedom in the Holy Land. An important role was played the following year by Tancred in the conquest of Jerusalem.
The great abbeys