Saint Benedict the Abbot
Benedict of Nursia (480 – 550) was the founder of Western monasticism, the author of the famous Rule that bears his name, and a patron saint of Europe.
Benedict, twin brother of Scholastica, was born at Nursia in central Italy. He studied for a time in Rome but left because he was so distressed by the immorality of society.
He fled to Subiaco where he became a hermit. News of his spiritual wisdom and miraculous powers spread and soon disciples joined him. Benedict organized them into twelve deaneries of ten monks each.
He stayed at Subiaco for about twenty five years. It is thought he left there due to local disturbances perhaps created by a jealous cleric. It is even thought that an attempt was made on his life by poisoning, which is symbolized by the snake coming out of his chalice. He is also often depicted with a raven that is said to have carried away a loaf of poisoned bread that a jealous enemy had sent to St. Benedict
Benedict left and took a small group of monks to Monte Cassino which is where he wrote the final version of his Rule, borrowing from other monastic writers and Desert Fathers.
His rule emphasized authority and obedience, stability and community life. The monks’ primary occupation was the praying of the Divine Office in common, reading of sacred texts and manual work of various kinds.
Benedict remained in Monte Cassino the rest of his life. He never became a priest and never intended to found a new religious order yet he influenced the growth of both Western monasticism and Western civilization.
Benedict died on March 21, 550 and he was buried alongside his sister whom he would meet once a year outside his monastery for the exchange of spiritual insights.
The liturgical calendars of Cassino, some dating back to the eighth century, mention a solemnity on March 21, Benedict’s day of death, celebrated in concurrence with a feast on July 11, the day his remains were transferred to another site within the monastery.
His Rule was followed in France, England, and Germany by the seventh and eighth centuries. When Charlemagne initiated a reform of monasticism in 814, he chose the Rule of St. Benedict and it was imposed upon all monasteries within the empire.
It is said that St. Benedict “is a dim figure, and the facts of his life are given us in a clothing which obscures rather than reveals his personality.” The little known about his life comes to us from the Dialogues of St. Gregory which is merely a series of sketches illustrating the miraculous events in the life of St. Benedict.