Benedict of Nursia
(blessed) (480–543) In Christian legend, father of Western monasticism.
Patron saint of coppersmiths and schoolchildren.
Invoked against fever, gallstones, nettle rash, poison, and witchcraft, by servants who have broken their employer’s possessions, and by the dying.
Feast, 21 March.
Benedict was born of a noble family in Spoleto and sent to study in Rome, where he showed great scholarly promise.
However, he was disgusted by the life of the clergy, who lived in debauchery.
To escape he became a hermit at the age of 15.
His nurse, Cyrilla, who was always with him, tried to follow, but Benedict escaped, hiding in the wilderness of Subiaco.
Here, according to numerous legends, he underwent many temptations from the devil.
Once the devil tried to distract him with the vision of a beautiful woman, but the saint, to avoid falling into sin, threw himself on a thicket of briars and arose “bleeding, but calm.”
Another time the devil transformed himself into a blackbird and began to flutter around Benedict.
Although the saint was hungry, he did not reach out for the bird.
In fact, he was suspicious of the creature and made the sign of the cross. The bird instantly disappeared.
Despite the annoyances from the devil, the saint founded 12 monasteries with the help of Saint Maurus and Saint Placidus, sons of Roman senators.
Both afterward became famous. Saint Maurus introduced the Benedictine rule in France; Saint Placidus brought it to Sicily, where his sister Saint Flavis joined him and was martyred with him. His sister, Saint Scholastica, founded a similar order for nuns.
Saint Gregory the Great, in his Dialogues (book 2), records a legend about Mount Cassino (destroyed in World War II by Allied bombers because it was a Nazi stronghold).
The devil, since he could not get anywhere tempting the flesh of Saint Benedict, decided he would obstruct his efforts to build a monastery on the site of the temple of Apollo.
One day the builders went to carry a stone prepared for a certain part of Mount Cassino, but when they attempted to lift it, they found it was too heavy.
They went to Benedict, who immediately saw that the devil was holding the stone down. He made the sign of the cross over the stone and picked it up all by himself.
The stone, Saint Gregory informs his readers, can still be seen at the monastery.
Another legend recorded by Saint Gregory tells how a novice, in clearing the banks of a lake, accidentally lost his ax head, which flew off its handle and into the water.
Benedict went at once to the lake and held the wooden handle in the water; the iron ax head rose to the surface and fitted itself firmly onto the handle.
The miracle is similar to that of Elisha in the Old testament (2 Kings 6:5–7).
A much later legend tells how he healed Bruno, later Pope Leo IX, of toad poison by touching the boy’s lips with a crucifix.
In Christian art Saint Benedict is usually shown bearded, generally in a black Benedictine habit but sometimes the white one of the reformed order.
He holds an asperges for sprinkling holy water on people possessed by demons, or a pastoral staff, signifying his position as an abbot.
Sometimes a raven is shown, referring to the legend, or a piece of crockery, which the saint miraculously put together after it had accidentally been broken by a servant.