Invention of the Relics of St. Benedict
[Coulton Introduction] Since relics were almost essential to
the ordinary worship of the middle ages, and especially to monks,
it was natural that men should everywhere seek and find. The following
instance is chosen, out of scores or hundreds which might be found,
on account of the celebrity of the saint, the reasonable tone
of the narrative itself and the respect with which it is treated
by so great a scholar as Mabillon.
The possession of St. Benedict;s corpse was disputed for many
centuries (and in a sense is still disputed) between Monte Cassino
and Fleury, or as it is often called St.Benoît-sur-Loire.
Mabillon in 1685 printed the following "brevis narratio"
from a MS at ST. Emmeram, which he judged to be "900 years
old" and therefore contemporary with the translation of the
saint's body (Mabillon: Vetera Analecta, vol. IV, 1685,
THE INVENTION OF A RELIC
IN the name of Christ. There was in France, by God's gracious
providence, a learned Priest who set about to journey towards
Italy, that he might discover where were the bones of our father
St Benedict, no longer worshipped by men. [Note: Monte Cassino,
St Benedict's own monastery on a spur of the Apennines between
Rome and Naples, had been destroyed by the Lombard barbarians
in 580, and was not inhabited again until 718]. At length he came
into a desert country some 70 or 80 miles from Rome, where St
Benedict of old had built a cell whose indwellers had been bound
together in perfect charity. Yet, even then, this Priest and his
companions were disquieted by-the uncertainties of the place,
since they could find neither vestiges of the monastery nor any
burial-place, until at last a swineherd showed them, or hire,
exactly where the monastery had stood; yet he was utterly unable
to find the sepulcher' until he and his companions had hallowed
themselves by a two or three days' fast. Then it was revealed
to their cook in a dream, and the matter became plain unto them;
for in the morning it was shown unto them by him who seemed lowest
in degree, that St Paul's words might be true (I Cor. 1: 27),
that God despises that which is held in great esteem among men;
or again, as the Lord Himself foretold (Matt. 20:26), "Whosoever
will be great among you, let him be your minister." Then,
searching the spot with greater diligence, they found a marble
slab which they had to cut through. At last, having broken through
the slab, they found the bones of St Benedict, and his sister's
bones beneath, with another marble slab between; since (as we
believe) the almighty and merciful God would that those should
be united in their sepulcher who, in life, had been joined together
in brotherly and sisterly love, and in Christian charity.
Having collected and washed these bones they laid them upon fine
clean linen, each by itself, to be carried home to their own country.
They gave no sign to the Romans lest, if these had learnt the
truth, they would doubtless never have suffered such holy relics
to be withdrawn from their country without conflict or war-relics
which God made manifest, in order that men might see how great
was their need of religion and holiness, by the following miracle.
For, within a while, the linen that wrapped these bones was found
red with the saint's blood, as though from open wounds on living
whereby Jesus Christ intended to show that those whose bones are
here so glorious would truly live with Him in the world to come.
Then they were laid upon a horse which bore them over all that
long journey as lightly as though he had felt no burden. Again,
when they journeyed through forest ways and on narrow roads, neither
did the trees impede them nor did any ruggedness of the path obstruct
their journey; so that the travelers saw clearly how this was
through the merits of St Benedict and his sister St Scholastica,
in order that their journey might be safe and prosperous even
into the realm of France and the monastery of Fleury. In which
monastery they are now buried in peace, until they I arise in
glory at the Last Day; and here they confer benefits upon all
who pray unto the Father through Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
who lives and reigns in the unity die Holy Ghost, world without
[For a a collection of miracles wrought by these bones at Fleury,
see Miracles de St. Benoit, ed. E. Certain (Soc. d'Histoire
From C.G. Coulton, ed, Life in the Middle Ages, (New York:
Macmillan, c.1910), Vol IV, 29-31
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(c)Paul Halsall August 1996