In the year 480, twins were born to a childless couple in Nursia, Italy. The ecstatic parents named the boy Benedict (“the blessed one”) and the girl Scholastica (“the student”). As children, the twins romped together in the fields of their mountain village, always under the watchful eye of their beloved nurse, Cirilla.
Those carefree days ended, however, when Benedict and his nurse were sent to Rome for Benedict’s education. Scholastica stayed behind to study at a local convent. Rome was crowded, noisy, and full of corruption. Benedict found that his fellow students preferred drunken parties to their studies. Afraid of being drawn into a sinful life, Benedict quit the University. He joined a religious community where men read Scripture daily, sang psalms, and supported themselves through hard manual work.
Tradition tells us that Benedict performed his first miracle there. Nurse Cirilla, who still cooked for him, had borrowed a neighbor’s clay wheat sifter, which accidentally fell to the floor and broke. Cirilla was in tears.
Benedict said, “Don’t cry, Cirilla. Here, let me have it.”
He gathered the broken pieces, went to his room, and prayed fervently. Suddenly, he realized that the sifter was whole again. He turned it over, but could not even tell where it had been broken! Benedict showed it to Cirilla, who ran off to tell her neighbor. Soon the whole village knew about the miracle. They hung the restored sifter above the church door to remind all who entered of the power of prayer. Unwanted fame from the miracle drove Benedict to escape even farther from society. Leaving his nurse behind, he secretly hiked north to Subiaco. On the road, Benedict met a monk, Romanus, who asked what he was looking for.
“I am seeking solitude,” said Benedict. “A place to live alone and search for God.”
The monk nodded. “I know of a cave hidden in the cliff below my monastery. There, you can live as a hermit.”
Romanus gave Benedict a monk’s robe and promised to tell no one their secret. He became Benedict’s only link to the outside world. Each day, the monk secretly lowered bread in a basket on a rope to Benedict’s cave, attaching a bell to announce its arrival.
Fasting, praying, and reading Sacred Scriptures, Benedict lived alone in the cave for three years. His hair and beard grew long and unkempt. His only companion was a crow that visited daily to share bits of his bread. Living this way in silence, Benedict felt God’s presence growing in his heart. He came to understand that all of God’s creations--every rock, tree, and flower--possessed this sacred Presence and deserved respect.
Illustration © 2011 Candace J Hardy
One day, some shepherd boys stumbled upon the hermit’s cave. Benedict’s shaggy appearance frightened them at first, but his kind voice and gentle ways soon calmed their fears. They began to visit often, sharing their simple meals and listening to his Bible stories.
The shepherds told others about the holy man, and soon the path to the cave became worn from many visitors. His solitude gone, Benedict built a small monastery in the countryside for his followers using native stones and materials. More people came. Over the next ten years the monk built twelve more monasteries and became abbot over all of them.
As more miracles were attributed to him, Benedict’s fame continued to grow. His little monasteries gained a reputation as places of peace, safety, and learning. Wealthy Roman families began sending their sons to Benedict for a Christian education.
Benedict’s popularity infuriated a neighboring priest. Blinded by jealousy, the priest sent a loaf of poisoned bread to the monk as a gift. But Benedict’s pet crow, arriving for its daily handout, danced around the bread and refused to eat it. This alerted Benedict to the danger and saved his life!
Saddened by the murderous plot, and wanting only peace, the 45-year-old Benedict left Subiaco. Taking a few monks with him, he established a larger monastery at Monte Cassino. He remained there as abbot for the rest of his life. And it was there that he wrote his famous “little rule” to guide the lives of his monks.
Glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of virtue,
pure vessel of God's grace!
Behold me humbly kneeling at your feet.
I implore you in your loving kindness
to pray for me before the throne of God.
To you, I have recourse
in the dangers that daily surround me.
Shield me against my selfishness
and my indifference to God
and to my neighbor.
Inspire me to imitate you in all things.
May your blessing be with me always,
so that I may see
and serve Christ in others and work for His kingdom.
Graciously obtain for me
from God those favors and graces
which I need so much
in the trials, miseries, and afflictions of life.
Your heart was always full of love,
compassion, and mercy
toward those who were afflicted
or troubled in any way.
You never dismissed
without consolation and assistance
anyone who had recourse to you.
I therefore invoke your powerful intercession,
confident in the hope that you will hear my prayers
and obtain for me the special grace and favor
I earnestly implore.
Help me, great St. Benedict,
to live and die as a faithful child of God,
to run in the sweetness of His loving will,
and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven.
Born: 480 ~ Died: 547
(Some sources cite 543 as the year of his death)
Feast Day: July 11th, though it is celebrated on March 21st
Notable: "Saint Benedict of Nursia." Twin brother of Saint Scholastica. Born of Roman nobility. Best known for his "Rule of Saint Benedict," used by monasteries and monks. The early Middle Ages are referred to as "The Benedictine Centuries."
Canonized by: Pope Honorius III in 1220