Father of Monks
Life of Saint Benedict
The future, “Father of Monks,” was born in 480 A.D. at Norcia, about 70 miles from Rome. At a young age he left his studies at Rome in pursuit of a life of sanctity and spiritual perfection. He soon settled in the remote area of Subiaco and lived in a cave for three years under the direction of a hermit named Romanus. After the death of Romanus, Benedict accepted the invitation of some nearby monks to be their abbot. The monks, however, were quite wayward and would not take the counsels of Benedict and conspired to poison him. Saint Benedict suspecting their evil intent blessed the goblet of poisoned wine offered him, whereupon it shattered. He then went back into his solitude for a short period of time.
At the age of 31, he began founding monasteries and by the age of 39 there were twelve monasteries to his credit. The most renowned is Montecassino where he wrote for his monks a rule somewhat tempered from the severity of Eastern Monasticism. The “Rule of Saint Benedict” became the norm for all Western Monasticism and is still practiced today by Benedictines the world over. The Benedictine Order has given the Church over 57,000 known saints and 35 popes, of whom 17 are Saints or Blesseds.
Saint Benedict’s twin sister, Saint Scholastica, founded an order for nuns based on the same rule of life. While praying one day, Saint Benedict saw in a vision the death of his sister and her soul rising toward Heaven in the form of a dove. She died on February 10, 543 A.D., 40 days before his death on March 21st. They are both buried in the Cathedral of Montecassino. Pope Saint Gregory the Great-a Benedictine-wrote the life of Saint Benedict.
For more on the life of Saint Benedict, click here.
The Medal of Saint Benedict
We do not know just when the first medal of St. Benedict was struck. At some point in history a series of capital letters was placed around the large figure of the cross on the reverse side of the medal. For a long time the meaning of these letters was unknown, but in 1647 a manuscript dating back to 1415 was found at the Abbey of Metten in Bavaria, giving an explanation of the letters. They are the initial letters of a Latin prayer of exorcism against Satan, as will be explained below.
The Jubilee Medal of Montecassino
The above features were finally incorporated in a newly designed medal struck in 1880 under the supervision of the monks of Montecassino, Italy, to mark the 1400th anniversary of the birth of St. Benedict. The design of this medal was produced at Saint Martin’s Archabbey, Beuron, Germany, at the request of the prior of Montecassino, Very Rev. Boniface Krug OSB (1838-1909). Prior Boniface was a native of Baltimore and originally a monk of St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, until he was chosen to become prior and latter archabbot of Montecassino.
Since that time, the Jubilee Medal of 1880 has proven to be more popular throughout the Christian world than any other medal ever struck to honor Saint Benedict.
Symbolism of Medal
Because the Jubilee Medal of 1880 has all the important features ever associated with the Medal of St. Benedict, the following description of this medal can serve to make clear the nature and intent of any medal of St. Benedict, no matter what shape or design it may legitimately have.
On the face of the medal is the image of Saint Benedict. In his right hand he holds the cross, the Christian’s symbol of salvation. The cross reminds us of the zealous work of evangelizing and civilizing England and Europe carried out mainly by the Benedictine monks and nuns, especially for the sixth to the ninth/tenth centuries.
Rule and Raven
In St. Benedict’s left hand is his Rule for Monasteries that could well be summed up in the words of the Prolog exhorting us to “walk in God’s ways, with the Gospel as our guide.”
On a pedestal to the right of St. Benedict is the poisoned cup, shattered when he made the sign of the cross over it. On a pedestal to the left is a raven about to carry away a loaf of poisoned bread that a jealous enemy had sent to St. Benedict.
C. S. P. B.
Above the cup and the raven are the Latin words: Crux s. patris Benedicti (The Cross of our holy father Benedict). On the margin of the medal, encircling the figure of Benedict, are the Latin words: Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur! (May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death!). Benedictines have always regarded St. Benedict as a special patron of a happy death. He himself died in the chapel at Montecassino while standing with his arms raised up to heaven, supported by the brothers of the monastery, shortly after St. Benedict had received Holy Communion.
Below Benedict we read: ex SM Casino MDCCCLXXX (from holy Monte Cassino, 1880). This is the medal struck to commemorate the 1400th anniversary of the birth of Saint Benedict.
On the Back of the medal, the cross is dominant. On the arms of the cross are the initial letters of a rhythmic Latin prayer: Crux sacra sit mihi lux!
Nunquam draco sit mihi dux! (May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!).
In the angles of the cross, the letters C S P B stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (The cross of our holy father Benedict).
Above the cross is the word pax (peace), that has been a Benedictine motto for centuries. Around the margin of the back of the medal, the letters V R S N S M V – S M Q L I V B are the initial letters, as mentioned above, of a Latin prayer of exorcism against Satan: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!)
Use of the Saint Benedict Medal
There is no special way prescribed for carrying or wearing the Medal of Saint Benedict. It can be worn on a chain around the neck, attached to one’s rosary, kept in one’s pocket or purse, or placed in one’s car or home.
The medal is often put into the foundations of houses and building, on the walls of barns and sheds, or in one’s place of business.
The purpose of using the medal in any of the above ways is to call down God’s blessing and protection upon us, wherever we are, and upon our homes and possessions, especially through the intercession of Saint Benedict.
By the conscious and devout use of the medal, it becomes, as it were, a constant silent prayer and reminder to us of our dignity as followers of Christ.
The medal is a prayer of exorcism against Satan, a prayer for strength in time of temptation, a prayer for peace among ourselves and among the nations of the world, a prayer that the Cross of Christ be our light and guide, a prayer of firm rejection of all that is evil, a prayer of petition that we may with Christian courage “walk in God’s ways, with the Gospel as our guide,” as Saint Benedict urges us.
A profitable spiritual experience can be ours if we but take the time to study the array of inscriptions and representations found on the two sides of the medal.
The lessons found there can be pondered over and over to bring true peace of mind and heart into our lives as we struggle to overcome the weaknesses of our human nature and realize that our human condition is not perfect, but that with the help of God and the intercession of the saints our condition can become better.
The Medal of Saint Benedict can serve as a constant reminder of the need for us to take up our cross daily and “follow the true King, Christ our Lord,” and thus learn “to share in his heavenly kingdom,” as Saint Benedict urges us in the Prolog of his Rule.
Special Use of the Medal
By a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (6 March 1959), the Blessing of Saint Maur over the sick is permitted to be given with a Medal of Saint Benedict instead of with a relic of the True Cross, since the latter is difficult to obtain.
(from the Order of Saint Benedict)
On Reverence in Prayer
from the Rule of Saint Benedict
When we wish to suggest our wants to persons of high station, we do not presume to do so except with humility and reverence. How much the more, then, are complete humility and pure devotion necessary in supplication of the Lord who is God of the universe! And let us be assured that it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard (Matt 6:7), but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction. Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure, unless it happens to be prolonged by an inspiration of divine grace. In community, however, let prayer be very short, and when the Superior gives the signal let all rise together.