Catholic: Pope hosts orchestra on St. Benedict Day

From his summer residence, Pope Benedict XVI will be hosting an orchestra today. Photo in public domain

Did you know? St. Benedict of Nursia was a twin!

WEDNESDAY, JULY 11: Pope Benedict XVI emerges from his “summer vacation” to host the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra today, as a tribute to a saint all Catholics will be venerating: St. Benedict of Nursia. Best known as the “father of Western monasticism,” St. Benedict had no intention of heading up even one monastery when he set out at age 20 to find refuge from life in a troubled world. No contemporary biography exists for St. Benedict, but any member of the Benedictine order knows the strict rule this saint held for his monks. St. Benedict believed in simplicity, hard work and helping surrounding communities—all of which is evident in his monastic rules. (Learn more from American Catholic.)

Benedict even inspired his twin sister, St. Scholastica, to turn to God; it’s written that, upon her death, he had a vision and beheld her soul ascending to heaven. St. Benedict asked his brethren that her body be laid in a tomb he had prepared for himself, at his monastery. (Wikipedia has details.)

In approximately 480 CE, Benedict was born into a wealthy Italian family. After studies in Rome, however, Benedict became disgusted with the society that surrounded him—a Church divided by schism, the atrocities of war—and at age 20, he escaped to a smaller, nearby town. It still wasn’t enough. Benedict became a hermit for three years, and soon had the idea of gathering the small groups of monks he came across into one large community: a “Grand Monastery.” Benedict began to build Monte Cassino, one of the most famous monasteries of the world, with some help from monks who had begun to follow him. (For a detailed biography, check out the Global Catholic Network.) The monasteries multiplied, and by the Middle Ages, all monasticism of the West was under the Rule of St. Benedict.


At some point during his years of solitude, St. Benedict was asked to become an abbot for a local monastery. Benedict knew the monks there wouldn’t agree with his ideas, but after their begging, Benedict agreed. As he had predicted, the monks soon became angry and twice tried to poison him; both times, he miraculously went unharmed. A medal was struck in 1880, on the 14th centenary of St. Benedict’s birth, bearing an image of one of these poisoning instances on one side. The origin of the medal’s pictures, however, is much older and more mysterious. A 1647 witchcraft trial in Bavaria revealed three accused women insisting that they had no power in the Metten Abbey, which held painted crosses on the walls with the letters now found on St. Benedict medals.


It appears that even the Pope enjoys a summer vacation! On July 3, Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican for his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 15 miles southeast of Rome. (Get the story from the Catholic News Agency.) The Prefecture of the Pontifical Household reports that the Pope’s summer schedule will remain light, until his return home in September. Aside from a few events—including hosting an orchestra for the Feast of St. Benedict today—the Pope will reside lakeside, in a papal residence that has existed since the reign of Pope Urban VIII in the mid-17th century.

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