St Benedict

St Benedict (480 - 547) abandoned the worldly pleasures of Rome as a young man and retired to the countryside around fifty miles away. Eventually he adopted the life of a hermit, living in a cave in a place known as Subiaco. He founded a number of communities of monks in the district. A story occasionally illustrated shows some local monks attempting to poison him. He had unwillingly agreed to become their abbot, and, it would seem, this didn't quite work out. The plot failed, and  Benedict returned to his cave, which can be visited to this day. Margarito's cave looks like the mouth of Hell, the source of all temptation.

Benedict's cave: The Sacro Speco, Subiaco, Italy

   The story of him rolling in the thorns and brambles is rarely depicted. This detail comes from Scenes from the Lives of the Hermits (Tuscan school) a painting sadly cut up into pieces and scattered. It comes from a section in the Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford. 

The Golden Legend Extract:
   One day a small black bird began to annoy Benedict. It flew so close to his head that he could have caught it in his hand, but instead he made the sign of the cross. This made the bird fly away.

  Before long the devil put into the holy manís mind the image of a woman he had once seen. He was so aroused by the memory that desire almost overcame him, and he thought of giving up his lonely life. But suddenly, inspired by Godís grace, he threw off his clothes and rolled in the thorns and brambles that grew there. When he came out his body was so scratched and torn that the pain cured the sickness of his spirit. In this way he conquered wickedness by putting out the fires of lust, and from then on he was no longer troubled by the temptations of the flesh.

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