Birthday: March 2, 480
Spiritual & Religious Leaders
Died At Age: 67
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: Saint Benedict of Nursia
Born Country: Italy
Born in: Norcia, Umbria, Kingdom of Odoacer, Italy
Famous as: Saint
father: Eutropio Anicio
mother: Claudia Abondantia Reguardati
Died on: March 21, 547
place of death: Monte Cassino, Kingdom of the Ostrogoths, Italy
Benedict of Nursia (modern-day Norcia) is regarded as a Christian patron saint of Europe (proclaimed by Pope Paul VI) and the father of Western monasticism. He is venerated by the 'Catholic Church,' the 'Eastern Orthodox Church,' the 'Oriental Orthodox Churches,' the 'Anglican Communion,' and 'Old Catholic Churches.' He was the founder of the 'Benedictine' monastery and 12 communities for monks in Subiaco. The ‘Rule of St. Benedict’ is now widely regarded as the base of thousands of religious communities of the Middle Ages. History remembers him for his contribution to the rise of monasticism in the West. Most of what we know about Benedict has been sourced either from a short poem by Mark of Monte Cassino or the second volume of the four-book 'Dialogues' (possibly written between 593 and 594 AD) by Pope Gregory I (which is again a disputed work). Moreover, Gregory focused more on Benedict's spiritual side than on his life.
Childhood & Early Life
Benedict was born around March 2, 480 AD, to a Roman noble of Nursia, in Umbria. According to Bede tradition, he had a twin sister named Scholastica.
Benedict attended primary schools in Norcia and then traveled to Rome to study literature and law. He, however, moved to the present-day Affile, taking a group of priests and his old nurse along, probably because he was disgusted with the debauchery of his peers and Rome's tumultuous political scenario.
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Life as a Hermit
Benedict's first miracle was restoring broken earthenware. It brought so much notoriety to him that he had to live like a hermit in a cave near Subiaco.
Cut off from society, Benedict was immersed in isolation. The only person he was in contact with was a monk named Romanus, who owned a monastery nearby. Benedict received spiritual and material help from the monk, throughout his subsequent 3 years of isolation.
Around the time, Benedict befriended some shepherds who eventually became his followers. It marked the beginning of the pastoral and apostolic principles of the 'Benedictine Order.'
Establishment of Monasteries
Benedict's rising fame alarmed the monasteries nearby. He was hence persuaded to become an abbot of the community of Vicovaro. Benedict denied. Thus, his murder was plotted.
Soon, Benedict returned to his cave and established 12 monasteries in Subiaco, Italy, appointing 12 monks for each of them. The overall control was, however, in his hands.
The 13th monastery that Benedict established was for educating the novices. Of all Benedict's monks with Roman aristocrat backgrounds, Maurus and Placidus, sons of Equizius and the nobleman Tertullus, respectively, were his two gems.
Benedict's miracles, such as finding water for his monks, saving a monk from a sinful life, and making Maurus walk on water to save a drowning Placidus, furthered his fame.
An envious neighboring priest called Florentius conspired against him. Soon, he was forced to leave the area. His 12 monasteries, however, continued to function. Benedict traveled toward the south, and his disciples, too, followed.
Life in Cassino
In the south, Benedict settled down in Cassino, located somewhere between Rome and Naples. The people of Cassino were pagan, but his preaching converted them.
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Between 525 and 529 AD, Benedict established the old sanctuary 'Abbey of Montecassino,' which is the most famous monastery of continental Europe. Built under Benedict's supervision, the monastery was initially an old Roman fort in the municipium of Casinum, which was transformed into a much bigger monastery than the one in Subiaco.
Benedict also built a chapel dedicated to Saint John, located at the altar of Apollo, which was turned into an oratory dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours.
Scholastica joined Benedict and became the head of a nearby nunnery.
The autumn of 542 AD is the only specific date known in Benedict's life. It was when the Goth king Totila visited him while he was going to invade Naples. To test Benedict's charisma, Totila sent his disguised gallant to him, only to be unmasked by Benedict.
Benedict met Totila and predicted his death in the 10th year of his rule in Rome. This turned out to be true.
Benedict had also predicted his monastery's first destruction, but he had the grace from God to save all his monks.
The Rule of St. Benedict
Even though Benedict had an experience of a solitary life, in his ‘Rule,’ he encouraged living in a community. The ‘Rule’ taught people to live a life revolving around Christ and laid down rules to run a monastery.
Written in 516, the ‘Rule of St. Benedict’ consisted of 73 short chapters, most of which were teachings on obedience and humility. The major part of the ‘Rule’ was 'Opus Dei.'
The golden 'Rule of Ora et Labora' (“pray and work”) described the daily schedule of the monks, comprising prayer, sleep, manual work, sacred reading, and charity.
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The rituals of monastic life, as mentioned in the ‘Rule,’ included a full year's probation and a vow of obedience to the ‘Rule’ of the monastery.
The ‘Rule of St. Benedict’ held the elected abbot of the monastery neither accountable to anyone but God nor bound to follow any advice but the ‘Rule.’
The ‘Rule’ forbade ownership, even of the smallest thing. It had a detailed penal structure, too.
The ‘Rule of St. Benedict’ is now an integral part of the spiritual treasury of the Church, which inspires religious bodies and the legislators of various institutions.
The ‘Rule’ also provided some provisions to the monks, such as the allowance to dress suited to the climate, to eat sufficiently, and to not fast except on some days specified by the Roman church.
The primary motive of the ‘Rule of St. Benedict’ was to make the monastery self-sufficient and self-contained. Displaying his human side, he has also allowed people to be weak and to fail. Unfortunately, over time, the discretion was modified to suit one's comfort and self-indulgence.
The ‘Rule’ was regarded as Benedict's achievement until 1938, after which it was recognized that he had used the literary works of the Desert Fathers, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. John Cassian to create his ‘Rule.’
That year, it was found that the 'Rule of the Master' (‘Regula magistri’), which was previously considered a plagiarized version of the ‘Rule,’ was actually one of the sources that Benedict had used.
The devotional medal known as the ‘Saint Benedict Medal’ originated from a holy cross in Benedict's honor.
The exact origin of the medal is unknown. It got its first approval in Pope Benedict XIV's briefs of December 23, 1741, and March 12, 1742.
The ‘Jubilee Medal’ was introduced in 1880 to celebrate the 14th centenary of Benedict's birth.
Benedict's last conversation with Scholastica was at the foot of Montecassino. A few days later, he saw her soul rising to heaven in the form of a dove.
Another vision that Benedict had was that of angels carrying the soul of Bishop Germanus of Capua in a fire globe. Pope Saint Gregory described these visions as a sign of the close union between Benedict and God.
Benedict's noble life justified his much-glorified death. Benedict died on March 21, 547 AD. He had envisioned his death and had thus informed his disciples.
Six days before his death, the deceased Scholastica's grave, which Benedict was supposed to share, was opened. Benedict took his last ‘Holy Communion’ into his oratory.
According to the 'Martyrologium Hieronymianum' and Bede manuscripts, Benedict died of a fever at Monte Cassino on March 21, 547.
His memorial is celebrated on July 11, and the ‘Eastern Orthodox Church’ observes Saint Benedict Day on March 14.