Saturday, 10 February 2007

St Scholastica

Born in Nursia (Norcia), Italy in about 480, Saint Scholastica died near Monte Cassino, in about 543. Almost everything we know about her comes from the Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great. Saint Scholastica, twin sister of Saint Benedict of Nursia who founded of the Benedictine order, was consecrated to God at a very early age but probably continued to live in her parents' home.

It is said that she was as devoted to Jesus as she was to her brother. So, when Benedict established his monastery at Monte Cassino, Scholastica founded a convent in nearby Plombariola, about five miles south of Monte Cassino. The convent is said to have been under the direction of her brother, so she is regarded as the first Benedictine nun. The siblings were evidently quite close but the rules of their respective houses prevented either entering the other's monastery. According to Saint Gregory, they met once a year at a house near Monte Cassino monastery to confer on spiritual matters, and were eventually buried together, probably in the same grave. Saint Gregory says, "so death did not separate the bodies of these two, whose minds had ever been united in the Lord."

Saint Gregory tells the charming story of the last meeting of the two saints on earth. Scholastica and Benedict had spent the day in the 'mutual comfort of heavenly talk' and with nightfall approaching, Benedict prepared to leave. Scholastica, having a presentiment that it would be their last opportunity to see each other alive, asked him to spend the evening in conversation. Benedict sternly refused because he did not wish to break his own rule by spending a night away from Monte Cassino. Thereupon, Scholastica cried openly, laid her head upon the table, and prayed that God would intercede for her. As she did so, a sudden storm arose. The violent rain and hail came in such a torrential downpour that Benedictand his companions were unable to depart. "May Almighty God forgive you, sister" said Benedict, "for what you have done." "I asked a favour of you," Scholastica replied simply, "and you refused it. I asked it of God, and He has granted it!"

‘It is not’, St Gregory tells us, ‘a thing to be marvelled at, that a woman who had not seen her brother for a long time, might do more at that time than he could, seeing that, as St John says, "God is love" [1 John 4:8] and therefore of right she who loved more did more.’

She died three days later. Benedict reportedly saw a vision of Scholastica's soul departing her body, ascending to heaven in the form of a dove. He placed her body in the tomb he had prepared for himself, and arranged for his own to be placed there after his death.

Her relics were alleged by the monk Adrevald to have been translated to a rich silver shrine in Saint Peter's Church in Le Mans, France, which may have been when Benedict's were moved to Fleury. In 1562, this shrine was preserved from the Huguenots' plundering.

Saint Scholastica is usually depicted in art as a habited nun, holding a crozier and crucifix, with her brother. Sometimes she is shown with Saint Justina of Padua, with whom she is sometimes confused though Justina was never a nun. She is also depicted receiving her veil from Saint Benedict; or her soul departing her body like a dove; or with a dove at her feet or bosom; or kneeling before Saint Benedict's cell. She is the patroness of Monte Cassino and all Cassinese communities and is invoked against storms.

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