It is thought that St Benedict was born in the year 480 AD, in Nursia, Umbria, a Sabine town seventy miles north-east of Rome. He was sent to Rome to study, but the disturbed and profligate life of the city made him leave the city. When he was approximately twenty years old he and his nurse went to stay with a priest in Enfide, thirty five miles due east of Rome. As a result of the fame from having performed a minor miracle there (through prayer he repaired a sieve which his nurse had broken) he fled the town and made his way into the hills around Subiaco. Here he sought the solitary life and lived in seclusion for three years dwelling in a cave.
St Benedict’s fame spread around the countryside and he was asked by a community of monks to become their abbot. Unfortunately, his high standards were not accepted by all of the brethren, and it is related that they attempted to poison his wine. St Benedict made the sign of the cross over the wine, and the vessel shattered. St Benedict then returned to his cave at Subiaco.
Fame still surrounded St Benedict and many sought his council at Subiaco. He organised twelve communities, each with twelve monks. Noblemen from Rome would entrust their sons to St Benedict for schooling in the Lord’s service – such as St Maurus and St Placid. Unhappily, the local parish priest, filled with envy of St Benedict, attempted to kill him by poisoning his bread. St Benedict was saved by a pet raven, which carried off the poisoned loaf in its beak. Understandably, St Benedict felt it time to once more move away, and moved south to Monte Cassino around 529.
This time St Benedict, now aged around fifty, exercised direct control over his disciples whom he formed into a single body, unlike the system he had established at Subiaco. There is no evidence to suggest that St Benedict was ever ordained to the Sacred Priesthood, as indeed very few monks were until the Middle Ages. At Monte Cassino St Benedict compiled his monastic rule, in which he drew upon previous Rules - especially those of St John Cassian and St Basil.
St Benedict’s Rule suggests the strong, warm love of God, which was the basis of his whole inner life, the spirit of quiet recollectedness and unshakable trust, the Roman gravitas together with an un-Roman gentleness: his fellow-feeling for men, and especially for his own monks; and the respect he shows for them. His monks are treated as grown men, open to guidance and correction, but also trusted with responsible tasks.
St Benedict died around AD 547 and was buried in the same grave at Monte Cassino as his sister (who is thought to be his twin), St Scholastica, who had been dedicated to the service of God from her childhood.