St Benedict

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Abbot and founder of Subiaco and Monte Cassino; author of the Rule which bears his name; Patriarch of Western Monasticism; and patron of Europe.

St Benedict was born at Nursia in Umbria around 480 and was educated in Rome. At about the age of 20, he went to live as a hermit in a cave in the mountains of Subiaco. Many men followed his example and he set up twelve monastic communities, each with 12 monks.

In 529 St Benedict set out for Monte Cassino with a small group. There they established a monastery which was to become the most famous in Western Christendom, and a model for thousands which followed.

The monasteries became centres of learning, agriculture, hospitality and medicine in a way St Benedict probably never foresaw.

There is no evidence that St Benedict was ever a priest. As his communities grew his reputation spread and towards the end of his life he was even visited by the Gothic king Totila.

Another kind of visitation came one night, when when he was standing praying by a window. It is written: 'the whole world seemed to be gathered into one sunbeam and brought thus before his eyes.'

When death was at hand, in 550, he was carried into the chapel where he received communion and died. He was buried in the same grave as his sister St Scholastica.

St Benedict said: "If you are really a servant of Jesus Christ, let the chain of love hold you firm in your resolve, not a chain of iron."

His emblems are a broken cup, (which contained poison) and a raven (which flew away with it).

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