19 August 2008

Saint Benedict and his Rule

Cadfael is, of course, a Benedictine monk. Benedictine monks follow the Rule written by Saint Benedict, who lived in Italy in the late 5th/early 6th centuries. After living as a hermit for three years, he was asked to become the leader of a group of monks. The monks found his leadership and the way of life he tried to inculcate more demanding than they wished and they tried to poison him. He survived the attempts on his life and withdrew from the monastery, founding new monasteries for followers who still wished to attach themselves to him. To guide them in following a monastic life he wrote his Rule, which has been the basis for Western monasticism ever since. The picture on the left showing Saint Benedict presenting the Rule to monks is from an 1129 manuscript (i.e., a manuscript contemporary with the setting of the Cadfael stories), now in the British Museum. (public domain picture taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia)

Although not really a biography in the modern sense, a life of Saint Benedict written by Pope Gregory the Great, who was able to interview people who worked with Saint Benedict, does still exist. Paul Halsall's Medieval Sourcebook has a modernised version of a 17th century translation. An early 20th century account of Saint Benedict's life and work can be read in The Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Medieval Sourcebook also has a translation of parts of Saint Benedict's Rule done by Ernest F. Henderson in 1910. A complete translation of the Rule, originating from a Benedictine monastery in Kansas, can be found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. The Catholic Encylopedia entry on the Rule of Saint Benedict summarises the Rule and has an extensive discussion.

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The map shows Italy at the time Benedict lived, while the satellite image shows Monte Cassino Abbey, the monastery founded by Saint Benedict, as it is today. (map by Sean and Carmen Butcher via wikimedia commons under Creative Commons Licence)

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