Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady, and St John the Baptist, Sedlec, Czech Republic
Benedict had spent a very long time living in a cave when he was approached by a group of monks. They’d heard of his severe and frugal lifestyle, the purity of his soul and his devotion, his piety, and his holiness. The monks had come to ask Benedict to be their leader. But Benedict warned them off. He’d be far too strict, he said, and they wouldn’t like it. He wasn’t joking. It was years before, and as a very young man, that Benedict had come to be living the life of a poor hermit in a cave. He’d been born to a rich family in Nursia, central Italy, in 480. He’d gone to Rome for his education. And there, he’d seen young men, pretty much like him. They had everything. Youth, intelligence, money. But they were spending it all in the pursuit of pleasure. And vice. Probably. Benedict had been appalled. He gave up his studies and his riches and he embarked on a life of solitude and reflection in a cave on the side of a mountain. He was alone until the monks came. If you discount the time the Devil sent an attractive young woman into his cave and Benedict ran to hide in a thorn bush rather than give in to the temptation of looking at her, and potentially lusting after her. But now, this group of monks wouldn’t take no for an answer. They wanted Benedict to lead them, show them the light. And against his better judgment, eventually, Benedict agreed. But he’d been right. His lifestyle was far too strict for those monks. They didn’t like his severe and frugal lifestyle, or that fact that as their leader, he imposed his severe and frugal lifestyle on them. But rather than telling Benedict it wasn’t working out and suggesting he move on, they decided to poison him. And they thought the best way to poison him would be through his water cup. But the monks had forgotten that before every drink of water, Benedict would pray. He said a blessing over the cup of water. And because it contained poison, the cup shattered. Benedict’s life was saved. He realized what had happened and made the rather unsurprising decision to return to his cave. To this day, he is depicted holding a broken cup. As he is in this statue. But that wasn’t the end of the road for Benedict. His experience with those monks had got him thinking. Could he set up his own monastic order? He decided that yes, he could. So it was the Benedictine Order was established. The order, which was set up to be autonomous from other orders, is thriving to this day. The life of a Benedictine monk is severe and frugal. The monks can’t own anything, and they spend a lot of their time in silence. Which wouldn’t be for everyone, but any monk signing up for the order knows what he’s letting himself in for. Benedict died in 543, at the age of 63. And he was made a saint some 677 years later, in 1220. He is the patron saint of all monks, of people who explore caves, of students, and yes, of broken cups.