Who was St. Benedict?

 

Benedict was born in Nursia, central Italy, in around 480 AD.  As a young man he was sent to study in Rome, but was soon appalled by the corruption in society and withdrew to live as a hermit in Subiaco.  He quickly attracted disciples and began to establish small monasteries in the neighbourhood.

 

Later in life he wrote his Rule for Monks, based on his own experiences of fallible people striving to live out the gospel.  He never intended to found an "order" but his Rule was so good it was disseminated and widely followed, becoming the model for western monasticism.

 

The Rule of St. Benedict describes a deliberate, pro-active structuring of a community's life, crafted to enable growth towards God.  By our standards, aspects of St. Benedict's Rule seem very severe and it is indeed demanding.  However, when compared to some of the practices of his monastic contemporaries, the moderation of Benedict's advice is striking.  In particular, he seeks a wise and humane balance between time spent in worship, work and recreation, and makes allowances for the strengths and weaknesses of individual monks.  Benedict's wisdom continues to speak to today's world, and not just to those within monastic communities.  Contemporary writers have, for instance, drawn out the relevance of his writing to the world of business.

 

Benedict died at Monte Cassino in about 550 AD.  He is one of the patron saints of Europe.

 

Why is there a raven on his statue?

It wasn't all plain sailing for St. Benedict.  In about 525 AD, he encountered severe local jealousy and an attempt was made on his life.  It is believed that his life was saved by a raven carrying off the cup of poison prepared by some monks unhappy with his stern regime.

 

St. Benedict is also portrayed wearing a monastic cowl, holding an open copy of his Rule and carrying a rod (for corporal punishment!).