Today is the feast of st Scholastica, twin sister of St Benedict. It is a first class feast for Benedictine nuns, but in monasteries of monks only rates a commemoration this year.
Life of the saint
The saint founded a monastery for nuns near St Benedict's monasteries, and her life is recorded in two brief - but powerful - incidents in the life of St Benedict by St Gregory the Great.
In the first, we are told that she travelled annually to her brother's monastery for a visit. On the last such occasion, she wished her brother to stay longer, so they could continue to enjoy their spiritual conversation. He refused, being determined to stick by the rules of his monastery; she prayed to God, and he was prevented from leaving by a sudden storm!
The second incident took place a few days later, when St Benedict had a vision of her entering heaven in the form of a dove; it was shortly after confirmed that she had indeed died.
Early history of Benedictine nuns
A 1921 history of St Benedict by F A Forbes records some of the subsequent history of her spiritual daughters, although I suspect not much of this is still accepted by historians!:
"The monastery of Piumarola, of which the Saint had been Abbess, was destroyed at the same time as that of Monte Cassino, by the Lombard duke, Zoto of Beneventum.
The Lombards, the last barbarian invaders of Italy, were a people partly Arian, partly pagan, and wholly cruel. They owed their conversion to the Catholic faith to their Queen Theodelinda, a woman as noble in nature as she was beautiful in face. On the death of King Anthari, her first husband, the Lombards, realizing the worth of the young widow, determined that she should remain their Queen, and that the man whom she should choose for her second husband should wear the royal crown. Theodelinda married Agilulf, Duke of Turin, a brave soldier who proved himself to be also a capable ruler. A fervent Catholic herself, her influence over her Arian husband was such that he became a staunch adherent of the Church, and through the good offices of St. Gregory the Great, and the entreaties of his wife, made peace with the Emperor Maurice. The son that was born to Theodelinda was publicly baptized by a Catholic prelate, a thing hitherto forbidden by the Lombard laws. In the beautiful basilica of Monza, built by the King and Queen, the famous iron crown of Lombardy, sent to Theodelinda and her husband by the Pope, in recognition of their services to religion, is preserved to the present day.
At the time of the first Lombard invasion, when the monasteries of Monte Cassino and Piumarola were destroyed, the nuns, like many of the monks, fled to Rome, where they were housed and supported by St. Gregory. It was to the prayers, tears, and fastings of these holy women, he declared, that the city owed its deliverance, when besieged by the Lombard army.
Piumarola was not the only Benedictine convent in Italy. Justina, one of the spiritual daughters of St. Scholastica, was Abbess of another religious house near Old Capua, the episcopal city of St. Germanus, whose soul St. Benedict had seen carried to heaven by the angels.
When the monastery of Monte Cassino was again restored, Piumarola was rebuilt under circumstances less strange in the eighth century than they appear to us in the twentieth. Ratchis, King of the Lombards, having resolved to exchange an earthly crown for a heavenly, renounced his kingdom and, presenting himself in Rome before Pope Zachary, asked to be clothed in the Benedictine habit.
With his own hands the Pope cut off the long hair worn as a sign of royalty by the Lombard Kings, gave him the tonsure, and vested him in the tunic and cowl of a monk. Ratchis retired to the Abbey of Monte Cassino, where he lived until his death. His wife Tassia, who with her daughter Ratruda also desired to embrace the religious life, having rebuilt the convent of the holy virgin St. Scholastica, took the veil and spent the rest of her life within its walls.
In later years the convents of Benedictine nuns increased almost as rapidly as those of the monks. When St. Boniface founded the monastery of Fulda in Germany, having sent to Monte Cassino certain monks to bring back an exact account of the customs observed there, he also made enquiries as to the life of the nuns of Piumarola. Shortly afterwards he founded a convent for women and invited St. Lioba, a cousin of his own, to come over from her English nunnery at Wimborne to take the direction of it. The convent was built at Bischofsheim, where St. Lioba the Abbess became as famous for her great learning as for her holiness.
When St. Lioba left England she was accompanied by St. Walburga, the sister of St. Willibald and St. Winibald. When the latter founded a double monastery in his diocese, he made St. Walburga Abbess of the nuns, while he himself undertook the government of the monastery."