October 5: SS Maurus and Placid, OSB

St Benedict receives SS Maurus and Placid
Sodoma, c15th

SS Maurus and Placid were both child oblates under St Benedict, and several incidents relating to them feature in St Gregory's Life of St Benedict.

Both, however, have subsequent legends attached to them that though largely dismissed by most contemporary historians, in fact do have some plausibility in my opinion, and are worth reconsidering.

St Maurus (512-584)

St Maurus was one of the most popular saints of the middle ages, with a widespread cult, in part due to the references to him in St Gregories Life of St Benedict, and in part to two later works, his Life and the Little Book of Miracles.

In the Life, St Maurus is credited with the introduction of Benedictine monasticism into France due to his foundation of the monastery of Glanfeuil, in response to a request from the bishop of Le Mans.

According to the story, by the time he and his fellow monks arrived in France to make the proposed new foundation, the bishop had died and his successor was less than enthusiastic.  St Maurus managed to find another benefactor however, and the monastery was duly founded, and thrived (albeit with the usual trials and tribulations) until its destruction by the Vikings.  The monks, however, fled to Paris, and established a new monastery there to continue his cult.

The modern translator of St Maurus' life (published, somewhat ironically given the Cistercian rejection of the type of monasticism St Maurus' life represented, in the Cistercian Studies Series in 2008), John Wickstrom, is a sceptic about both the authenticity of the life, and the historical claims it sought to bolster.

But though the Life itself may well have been largely a larger redaction or much later composition, I'm not convinced we should so quickly dismiss the underlying historicity of the main events it chronicles.

First, archeological excavations in the late nineteenth century established that there was indeed a monastery at this location in the sixth century, founded on the remains of a roman villa.

Secondly, this was a period of expansion of monasticism in Northern Europe, so the idea of seeking out a delegation from an existing monastery of some fame in Italy to assist in making a foundation is not at all implausible.

Thirdly, this region seems to have been a very early centre of enthusiastic devotion to Benedictine saints that is otherwise hard to explain.  The nearby monastery of Fleury, founded by 640, is famous for its raid on Monte Cassino to obtain the relics of St Benedict, as is Le Mans, which claimed to have obtained the relics of St Scholastica).

In any case, St Maurus was an important disciple of St Benedict, and the blessing for the sick named for him remains an important part of the Benedictine patrimony.

St Placid

St Placid was also one of St Benedict's disciples: he was originally credited as having been sent to establish a monastery at Messina in Sicily, and being martyred there by pirates, but 1969 (modernist-rationalist) revisionism has led to this claim being dropped from the modern martyrology.

It is certainly true that the ninth century attribution of his martyrdom to Muslim raiders was anachronistic.

But his was certainly a turbulent period in the history of Sicily, so whether the addition of this detail is enough to invalidate the underlying story of his martyrdom is, in my view, debatable.

**And for the record, here is the older Roman Office reading for the Office on him:

Commemoration of Ss. Placidus and Companions, Martyrs

Placidus was the son of Tertullus, one of the noblest persons of Rome. He was offered to God (by his father) when a child (only seven years of age) and given over to holy Benedict, in whose teaching and Rule of monks he so profited that he was reckoned among the chiefest of his disciples.

By him he was sent into Sicily, where he founded near the Port of Messina a Church and monastery in honour of St John the Baptist, and lived therein with his monks in wonderful holiness. Thither there came to see him his brothers Eutychius and Victorinus and his virgin sister Flavia, and while they were together, there landed there a certain brutal pirate, named Manucha, who took the monastery, and when he could in no wise prevail upon Placidus and the others to deny Christ, he commanded him, his brothers, and his sister to be cruelly murdered. With them Donatus, Firmatus a Deacon, Faustus, and thirty other monks brought the conflict of testimony to the blessed end of martyrdom, upon the fifth day of October, in the year of salvation 539

Statue of St Placid by Meinrad, 1679-81


John Wickstrom said...

I have come to agree with the author that the 9th century Life of St. Maurus, on which his popular cult was based contained a degree of historicity, though my reasons for this differ from those of the reverend blog poster
1. There are several dates from the remote past the the 9th century Life gets right, which is best explained by a tradition that preserved such memories at the abbey of Glanfeuil.
2. Several stories are included in the Life which are either embarrassing to the Saint or unlikely in a typical hagiography (for example the unnamed disaster that decimated the abbey which ends the Life). They would likely been included only if they were so well known in the community tradition that they could not be omitted.
3. Several of the incidents in the Life can be matched up with actual events from several centuries earlier, though their dates and descriptions vary.
I have changed my views in some measure owing to the important recent historical work on 'memory' in the Middle Ages, which tends to show that events were remembered longer and more detail by monastic communities in particular than had been thought.
My views on these issues are elaborated in a forthcoming article"
"Creativity and History in the Life of Saint Maurus," Revue bénédictine, t 126/2 (2016) available December 2016.

Kate Edwards said...

Thank you for this note on your revised views Dr Wickstrom, I look forward to reading your paper.