Life of St Benedict
Life of St Benedict
St Benedict was born in Nursia, Italy in the 5th Century. Much of what we know about the life of St Benedict comes from Saint Gregory’s dialogues from the late 6th century.
It seems that St Benedict was born to a wealthy family and after his early education in Nursia went to Rome in order to see more of the world and understand law and society. St Benedict appears to have been disgusted by the lives of wealthy Rome and he leaves with a small group of priests to live in a community in Affile.
St Benedict’s first miracle was seen in his time at Affile. A servant had accidentally broken a wheat sifter and St Benedict restored it to perfection. This miracle however brought fame and notoriety and St Benedict once again rejected this life and moved away from others. He lived in a cave near Subiaco as a hermit. Whilst living this isolated life his only contact with the wider world was with a monk from a nearby monastery called Romanus. Romanus presented St Benedict with a monk’s habit and supported him in his life as a hermit. For three years St Benedict lived in isolation from the world but others began to follow him and listen to him.
St Benedict decided to follow the example of the Christian Monasticism and the community of Vicovaro requested that he join as their Abbott but the monks rebelled against him and tried to poison him- another miracle followed where when St Benedict performed a blessing over the wine that had been prepared for him the vessel shattered. This event is linked to the inscription found on the cross of St. Benedict: "Begone Satan! and suggest not to me thy vain things: the cup thou profferest me is evil; Drink thou thy poison."
St Benedict left Vicovaro and moved back to Subiaco. There his ideas and example and influence continued to grow and he and founded 12 small monasteries. A local priest who was jealous of St Benedict’s notoriety tried to poison his bread. A raven flew down and stole the bread and threw is away and saved St Benedict’s life. The raven remains a powerful image linked to St Benedict.
St Benedict left Subiaco with a group of monks and travelled south of Rome to Monte Cassino. Here on the site of a pagan temple to Apollo, St Benedict founded his most influential monastery. St Benedict destroyed the temple and replaced it with two oratories, one dedicated to St. John the Baptist the other to St. Martin of Tours.
St Benedict had a twin sister, Scholastica and she too followed his example and established a community of those who had taken vows and she established a hermitage about five miles from Monte Cassino. In a miracle linked to her, on one of annual his visits to his sister, St Benedict was about to leave, but St Scholastica wanted to continue their discussion about scripture. St Scholastica closed her eyes in prayer and a storm broke which prevented St Benedict from leaving. St Benedict had a vision of her death and saw a shining dove rising and knew that she had died. He had prepared a place for her body before he received the messengers alerting him to her death.
At Monte Cassino many of the miracles of St Benedict took place and here that he wrote his ‘Rule’ towards the end of his life. His writings and reflections on living in a monastic community have shaped Christian monasticism and serve as an example for all Christians. The motto ‘Ora et Labora’ Prayer and Work reflects the underlying principles of St Benedict’s rule, that in life prayer and work must be in balance.
St Benedict is the patron saint of Europe, school children and students as well as many other areas including against poison and curses. The devotional medal of St Benedict originally came from a cross in honour of St Benedict. The front of the medal has an image of St Benedict holding the Holy Rule in his left hand and a cross in his right there is a raven on one side of him and a cup on the other side of him. Around the medal's outer margin are the words "Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur" ("May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death"). The reverse of the medal has a cross with the initials CSSML on the vertical bar which signify "Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux" ("May the Holy Cross be my light") and on the horizontal bar are the initials NDSMD which stand for "Non-Draco Sit Mihi Dux" ("Let not the dragon be my guide"). The initials CSPB stand for "Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti" ("The Cross of the Holy Father Benedict") and are located on the interior angles of the cross. Either the inscription "PAX" (Peace) or the Christogram "IHS" may be found at the top of the cross in most cases. Around the medal's margin on this side are the Vade Retro Satana initials VRSNSMV which stand for "Vade Retro Satana, Nonquam Suade Mihi Vana" ("Begone Satan, do not suggest to me thy vanities") then a space followed by the initials SMQLIVB which signify "Sunt Mala Quae Libas, Ipse Venena Bibas" ("Evil are the things thou profferest, drink thou thine own poison").
St Benedict and Bury St Edmunds
Unsurprisingly for a 5th century Italian monk it is unlikely that St Benedict ever visited Bury St Edmunds which was likely to have been known as Beodericsworth at that point. The connection with the town however comes from the monastery that was founded in about 1020 on the now ruined site in Abbey gardens. Whilst the original monastery was probably founded some centuries earlier around the shrine of St Edmund, it was the Benedictine monastery of the 11th century that grew in size and notoriety and made Bury St Edmunds one of the main pilgrimage sites in England. When a new Catholic school was to be founded In 1967 on Beetons Way the link to the Benedictine past of the town was honoured and therefore the logo featuring image of the book (the rule of St Benedict) and the Bishop’s crozier and bearing the Benedictine motto ‘Ora et Labora’ became the founding message of the school. Since then we have continued to work within this spirit and the long Benedictine tradition that this provides.