St. Benedict of Nursia
NAME Saint Benedict
WHAT FAMOUS FOR Pioneer of Western monasteries.
BIRTH B Nursia, Italy, 85 miles NE of Rome in 480AD.
FAMILY BACKGROUND Young Ben was born into a distinguished Christian family who loved each other tenderly. All we know of his father was that he was a Roman Noble.
Ben's beloved twin sister, Scholastica, became a nun and leader of a community for women at Plombariola, about five miles from Benedict's abbey at Monte Cassino. They used to meet up once a year. On the appointed day Scholastica went to Monte Cassino. Benedict came to meet her; they passed some hours together in a guest house of the abbey and ate together, then each went their own way.
CHILDHOOD A pious and virtuous child, Ben's boyhood was spent in Rome, where he lived with his parents and attended the schools until he had reached his higher studies.
EDUCATION Ben was educated at home before being sent to Rome to study. Once there, the sight of the disorderliness of his fellow students made him fear they would influence him to turn to sin. He fled without completing his studies to the mountains (as one does).
CAREER RECORD 500 After retiring to the mountains at the (we're guessing here) the age of 20, Benedict took up an apartment (a cave actually) for 5 years during which he gained a following.
When he founded the monastery at Vicouano, he became their Abbot at the request of the monks there. Later gathered 12 small communities in the Aniane valley to devote to a life of prayer.
503 Stories of Benedict's virtues reached some monks at a monastery in the neighbourhood (identified by some who know more than me with Vicovaro). Their abbot having recently died, the community came to Benedict and begged him to become their boss.
529 Benedict established his first monastery, the source of the Benedictine Order at Monte Cassino, a rocky hill about 80 miles southeast of Rome
Benedict emphasised the role of manual labor as a God-given part of human life and a typical day for him was day centred around work, mainly manual labour and teaching, study, private prayer and communal services.
APPEARANCE Pictures of St Benedict show him to be balding. The folically challenged Saint certainly had no need of a hairbrush.
FASHION The Benedictines were also known as "Black Monks" because in Summer they wore black robes and sandals. In Winter they wore woollen underclothes and fur boots.
Because Benedict never mentioned underpants in his instructions, his followers were not allowed to wear them.
CHARACTER According to the Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Benedict was "Single minded, composed and upright, a man of peace and moderation, practical. A loving father who combined insistence on good discipline with respect for human personality and individual capabilities."
SENSE OF HUMOUR A bit of a sourpuss, Benedict banned all laughter from his monasteries.
RELATIONSHIPS In the end Benedict had as many heirs as hairs-none.
MONEY AND FAME The Benedictines took no vow of poverty. Each monastery was encouraged to be self-supporting.
While journeying on horseback one day, Benedict met a peasant walking along the road," you've got an easy job" said the peasant, "why don't I become a man of prayer. Then I too would be travelling on horseback." "You think praying is easy" replied the Saint". "If you can say one Lords Prayer without any distraction, you can have the horse." "It?s a bargain" said the surprised peasant". Closing his eyes and folding his hands he began to say the Lords Prayer aloud. "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom..." Suddenly he stopped and looked up "Shall I get the saddle and bridle too" he said...
INTERESTS FOOD AND DRINK Whilst living as a hermit for three years in his cave Benedict had bread lowered to him in a basket attached to a rope by Romanus, a monk living at one of the numerous monasteries nearby.
After founding the Benedictine order Benedict compiled a series of rules by which the Benedictine monks should live by. In his Rule he allocated each monk a pound of bread and
two cooked dishes each day, though meat is forbidden.
Benedict wrote practically in his Rule "For the daily meal let there be two cooked dishes so that he who happens not to be able to eat of one may take his meal of the other. Avoid excess-above all things, that no monk shall be overtaken by indigestion."
542 In his Rule he allocated each monk a nemina (quarter of a litre) of wine each day. Benedict would like to prohibit wine but he realizes it would be an overly controversial measure, so he restricted his demands to banning drunkenness.
MUSIC AND ARTS Benedict liked paintings to have straight lines as straight lines reach God more easily.
LITERATURE A major contributor to preserving the literature of ancient Greece and Rome, Benedict was one of the first to insist that monks include intellectual labour in their duties and he specified a certain number of hours to be spent each day in the scriptorium.
The Rules of Benedict specified that monks should spend two hours a day reading Holy books.
During the Dark Ages copies of the masterpieces of Roman literature were preserved and recopied in the monasteries of the Benedictine monks.
NATURE The monks at Vicouano Monastery rebelled against the strict regime Benedict had imposed on them and arranged for poisoned bread to be given to him. However, a raven that daily used to come to him from the next wood, flew forward and tore the piece of bread away from the saint thus saving the life of his master.
PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY As I mentioned earlier in this Benedict fled to a cave on the face of a cliff in the mountains of Subiaco, disgusted at the vices of Rome. After three years in the cave, the fame of Benedict's virtues reached some monks whose abbot had just died and they insisted that he become his successor. Though Benedict remained in the cave, more and more disciples placed themselves under his guidance. Eventually he established an abbey at Vicovano to house the growing number of his followers. It was the first of twelve monasteries he built for them, each of twelve monks.
About 529 Benedict founded the Monte Cassino abbey on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to the God, Apollo. He established there his Rule of St Benedict, which he composed 15 years earlier. The rule encouraged monks to participate in manual labour and studying, a novel idea at the time, but a monument of wisdom that has survived the centuries. Benedict declared ?Idleness is hostile to the soul, and the brethren should be occupied at fixed times in manual labour and at definite hours in religious reading.?
SCANDAL In his earlier monastic days as an abbot in North Italy attempts to impose high standards and his general holiness provoked monks to try to poison him by putting poison in his wine. The glass broke when Benedict, as was his custom, traced the sign of the cross over his drink. They then tried to poison his bread but the aforementioned crow swept in and took the loaf away.
HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS Benedict performed many miracles including reviving a boy crushed to death by a fallen wall.
Benedict's rule instructs his monks: ?Before all things, care must be taken of the sick, so that they may be served in very deed as Christ himself?But let the sick on their part consider that they are being served for God?s honor and not provoke their brethren who are serving them by their unreasonable demands.?
HOMES I know I keep mentioning this, but Benedict fled from Rome to a cave in mountains of Subiaco at the age of 15 disgusted at the vices of city and spent three years in a cave on the face of a cliff in the desert. However in time he found he needed to establish places to house his followers and eventually established 12 monasteries which housed 12 monks each.
(See Monte Cassino below)
Benedict eventually left Subiaco and founded a monastery at Monte Cassino in AD529 on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to the god Apollo. It was so strongly built that weeks of bombardment by the allies during the Second World War could not destroy it. It is now a museum and picture gallery.
DEATH Died Monte Cassino AD547. A few weeks after the death of his beloved sister Scholastica, Benedict had her tomb opened as he wished to be laid to rest beside her. He was then without warning taken with a violent fever. The dying Benedict was carried into the chapel at Monte Cassino by his fellow Benedictines where he received communion before he drew his last breath standing erect supported by his disciples. During the post war restoration of the Abbey at Mount Cassino an urn was discovered which is said to contain the remains of Benedict and Scholastica
APPEARANCES IN MEDIA In medieval Christian art, Benedict was generally portrayed with his friendly raven.
ACHIEVEMENTS (1) A Pioneer of monasteries in the West. Benedict's encouragement of monks to participate in manual labour and teaching was novel at the time.
(2) Founder of Benedictine order. After his death Benedictine orders were accepted by all the monks of the west . The Benedictine order was to be the most important order in Europe for many centuries and produced 50 Popes and many cardinals and Archbishops. By the 11th century they existed in great numbers in every country of Western Europe except Ireland. By the reformation there were almost 300 Benedictine monasteries and nunneries in England.
(3) In 1964 Benedict was appointed Patron Saint of Europe , but not the Patron Saint of baldness. His emblems include a broken cup and yep a raven.
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