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Monday, 25 June 2012

Saint Benedict of Nursia

Benedict (480-547) 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.

He 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 at the age of 15 without completing his studies to a cave in mountains of Subiaco.

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 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 in the Subiaco he built for them, each of twelve monks.

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.

Benedict built his first monastery, the source of the Benedictine Order,  in 529 at Monte Cassino, a rocky hill about 80 miles southeast of Rome. It was on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to the god Apollo.

Monte Cassino 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.

Once established at Monte Cassino, Benedict never left. There he wrote the Benedictine Rule. The rule encouraged monks to participate in manual labour and studying, a novel idea at the time, but a monument of wisdom that became the founding principle for western monastacism.

Benedict liked paintings to have straight lines as straight lines reach God more easily.

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.

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.

In 1964 Benedict was appointed Patron Saint of Europe. His emblems include a broken cup and a raven.

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