Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Feast of the translation of the relics of St Benedict (July 11)

St. Benedict hands over the Rule of the New Order to the Monks of Monte Cassino - Turino Vanni

An account of the translation of the relics to Fleury:
IN the name of Christ. There was in France, by God's gracious providence, a learned Priest who set about to journey towards Italy, that he might discover where were the bones of our father St Benedict, no longer worshipped by men. 
At length he came into a desert country some 70 or 80 miles from Rome, where St Benedict of old had built a cell whose indwellers had been bound together in perfect charity. Yet, even then, this Priest and his companions were disquieted by-the uncertainties of the place, since they could find neither vestiges of the monastery nor any burial-place, until at last a swineherd showed them exactly where the monastery had stood; yet he was utterly unable to find the sepulcher' until he and his companions had hallowed themselves by a two or three days' fast. 
Then it was revealed to their cook in a dream, and the matter became plain unto them; for in the morning it was shown unto them by him who seemed lowest in degree, that St Paul's words might be true, that God despises that which is held in great esteem among men; or again, as the Lord Himself foretold, "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister." 
Then, searching the spot with greater diligence, they found a marble slab which they had to cut through. At last, having broken through the slab, they found the bones of St Benedict, and his sister's bones beneath, with another marble slab between; since (as we believe) the almighty and merciful God would that those should be united in their sepulcher who, in life, had been joined together in brotherly and sisterly love, and in Christian charity.
Having collected and washed these bones they laid them upon fine clean linen, each by itself, to be carried home to their own country. 
They gave no sign to the Romans lest, if these had learnt the truth, they would doubtless never have suffered such holy relics to be withdrawn from their country without conflict or war - relics which God made manifest, in order that men might see how great was their need of religion and holiness, by the following miracle. For, within a while, the linen that wrapped these bones was found red with the saint's blood, as though from open wounds on living whereby Jesus Christ intended to show that those whose bones are here so glorious would truly live with Him in the world to come. 
Then they were laid upon a horse which bore them over all that long journey as lightly as though he had felt no burden. Again, when they journeyed through forest ways and on narrow roads, neither did the trees impede them nor did any ruggedness of the path obstruct their journey; so that the travelers saw clearly how this was through the merits of St Benedict and his sister St Scholastica, in order that their journey might be safe and prosperous even into the realm of France and the monastery of Fleury. 
In which monastery they are now buried in peace, until they arise in glory at the Last Day; and here they confer benefits upon all who pray unto the Father through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who lives and reigns in the unity die Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.
(From C.G. Coulton, ed, Life in the Middle Ages, (New York: Macmillan, c.1910), Vol IV, 29-31)

The authenticity of the relics

Monte Cassino, however, it should be noted, has always maintained that Fleury's relics are not those of the saint.  Their website currently states:
Having been dutifully cared for, the earthly remains of St. Benedict and his twin sister St. Scholastica rest today at the celebrated hilltop monastery of Montecassino. Both Saints passed away in the mid 6th century, St. Scholastica at her nearby convent and St. Benedict at Montecassino. 
A black marble scroll on their tomb says: St. Benedict and St. Scholastica were never separated in spirit during their life nor are their bodies separated in their death. 
The original urn was made of alabaster, and held a lead container big enough for two people's remains. It was initially located underneath the primitive oratory of St. John the Baptist, built above the ancient acropolis' pagan altar to Apollo. The tomb of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, having survived so many centuries, destructions, and more recently the bombardment of WWII, can be found today at the High Altar of the reconstructed cathedral of Montecassino, surrounded by ornate and beautiful decorations.
Following WWII a methodical survey and excavation of the ancient sepulcher and bones inside the tomb was carried out. The experts conducted a thoroughly documented study at Montecassino and agreed on the authenticity of the remains, reaffirming like other have in the past, that they indeed belong to St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica.
It should be noted, however, that Fleury's relics have similarly been identified as originating in the sixth century, and surviving correspondence (though of questionable authenticity) suggests that the relic thieves were all excommunicated by the Pope of the time.

The leader of the tomb raiders, Aygulf, later became abbot of Lerins, and attempted to introduce the Rule there.  A rebellion led by two monks, allegedly aided and abetted by the local bishop, however, led to Aygulf and a group of his companions being marooned on a neighbouring island, where they were, it was claimed, killed by pirates...

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