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About St. Benedict

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St. Benedict was born into a family of privilege in Nursia, a town in Central Italy. Benedict matured into a studious young man, keenly aware of the social ills around him. War and deep division within the Catholic Church characterized the medieval world in which he lived. To escape the widespread immorality of his day, he denounced his inheritance and withdrew to the mountain caves of Subiaco, where he followed a monastic style of life driven by prayer, study, and manual work. Other young men soon joined him, eventually forming a community with Benedict as their spiritual father or Abbot. As time passed, Benedict wrote the ‘rule’ or constitution of the Benedictine community wherein he stressed the virtues of humility, obedience, and communal life. Benedict believed that community was integral to every person’s quest for holiness. An individual’s salvation was, to Benedict’s way of thinking, a team effort, captained and coached by a wise and holy Abbot. Benedict’s concern for striking a balance between prayer and work within a disciplined, supportive community became the foundation upon which western monasticism was built. Benedict will be remembered for instilling in his followers the belief that a deep love for prayer, work, and lifelong learning are truly the means to salvation. We celebrate St. Benedict on the 11th of July.

Less well known is the significance of two images frequently used in depictions of St. Benedict. Benedictine images and symbols often include a raven holding a loaf of bread between its beak. St. Gregory the Great is known to have told the story. He claims that St. Benedict regularly fed a raven from his own portion of bread at mealtime. One time, a jealous priest poisoned the bread he was going to eat. Knowing that the bread was tainted, St. Benedict called upon the raven to dispose of it and to ensure that no other being would be harmed. According to the story, the raven obeyed St. Benedict’s command and flew off with the poisoned bread.

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