Saint Benedict is the symbol of Norcia, his hometown. He was one of the main characters of monasticism, founded many convents and abbeys and played a decisive role in the renewal of European culture. Today we will rediscover his life, pinpointing the most important moments.
From Norcia to Montecassino passing by Subiaco.
Benedict was born in Norcia in 480 into a wealthy Roman family and he went precisely to Rome to pursue, like many, his studies there. The Western Roman Empire had fallen, the city had plunged into a profound crisis (not only social, but also moral) and the future ahead was all but a walk in the park.
The young man then decided to retire to the valley of the Aniene river, near the city of Subiaco, where many followed him, attracted by his fame as a saint, in spite of his wish to live like a hermit. They founded a true monk colony, including 12 small convents, each inhabited by 12 monks (the reference to the 12 holy disciples is no coincidence).
Benedict was an extremely charismatic character and was admired by many. This, however, also attracted many envious looks which forced him to abandon Subiaco with his most faithful disciples. They moved to Cassino in 529, where they founded the famous Abbey of Montecassino on top of the ancient ruins of a Roman acropolis. Here, Benedict would write his famous Rule.
Ora et Labora: a true rule for life.
In 540, Benedict wrote his Rule, a true spiritual will for his followers and those to come in the future. This document can be considered as the foundation act of the Benedictine Order.
In practice, the Rule is a summary of the gospels which combines discipline with humanity and organises the life of the monks to the last detail. It is based on two fundamental aspects:
- The obligation to live your whole life inside the same monastery.
- A proper moral conduct, based on complete obedience to the abbot, who is to be considered as a “loving father” rather than a boss (abba means father in Syriac).
Saint Benedict would prove to be a loving father as the first abbot of Montecassino. He guided his disciples in everyday life with affection and resolution, alternating prayer and work. The very famous motto: “Ora et Labora” (pray and work) is still the guideline for the Benedictine monks today.
Saint Benedict of Norcia died in his abbey on the 21st of march 547 and was buried together with his sister Scolastica (also a saint), who died just 40 days before.
This great character, who did so much to renovate not only monasticism, but a world that was in ruins after the fall of the Roman Empire and the barbaric invasions, was proclaimed patron saint of Europe the 24th of October 1964.