Sunday, 11 July 2010

Feast of St Benedict


Today is one of the two feasts of St Benedict in the Benedictine calendar, and the date that his feast was celebrated in the pre-1962, and is celebrated in the 1970 roman calendar.  It marks the translation of his relics to the monastery of Fleruy in France.  It is a first class feast in Europe, by virtue of his patronage of Europe, and in many churches and monasteries dedicated to the saint, although it is squeezed out of the calendar by the Sunday elsewhere.

St Benedict and his twin sister Scholastica were born in the town of Norcia, pictured below, in 480.  An English speaking monastery there now celebrates the traditional Office and Mass under both Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms.


As a young man St Benedict went to study in Rome. 


He quickly became disillusioned with the decadence of the city however, and left to join an informal community at Affile.

A miracle performed to assist his nurse led to his fame spreading however, and he fled to the wilds of Subiaco to escape the attention of well-wishers and live as a hermit.  He received the habit from a monk from a nearby monastery who secretly sneaked him food.


Over time he gathered followers, and established a group of twelve monasteries in the surrounding area.


The jealousy of a neighbouring priest however led him to take the decision to abandon his monasteries and head off to make a new foundation at Monte Cassino.  On his arrival, he took over the site of a pagan temple and converted it to a chapel and church dedicated to St John the Baptist and St Martin of Tours. With the support of those patrons, he set about converting the people of the place, and establishing the famous monastery.  During his lifetime,  Monte Cassino became a major pilgrim centre, and central to exchanges with many other monasteries on the development of the monastic life.  His sister also established a monastery nearby, starting the tradition in the Order of twinned men's and women's monasteries. 


Monte Cassino was destroyed for the first of several times in the decades following his death, but the monks fled to Rome, taking the Rule with them, and spreading Benedictine monasticism there, inspiring amongst others, the young man who was to become Pope St Gregory the Great.

St Benedict performed many miracles during his lifetime, many recorded in the Life written by Pope St Gregory, and died a holy death, propped up in the chapel for the Office, in 547.

On this feast day you might especially say a prayer for Australia's mostly rather sadly declining Benedictine monasteries (save for the rather more successful Benedictine inspired Tyburns), and for those who have left Australia to join more traditionally oriented monasteries, including former Adelaidians Br. James Middledorp, due to make final profession at Clear Creek in the US on 6 August, and Sr Mechtild, a novice at Le Barroux in France.

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