The Roman Church St Benedict and Gregory the Great

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About the year 500 a young man named benedict left his comfortable home in central Italy and travelled to Rome. His parents, who were weathy Christians, had sent him to finish his education and prepare to work in government service.

The Rome that greeted Benedict was different from the proud city that for centuries had ruled the Mediterranean world. During the previous 100 years barbarian invaders from the north had ransaked the city. They had destroyed public buildings, carrying away tonnes of valubles, melted down beautiful bronze statues, smashed stone monuments and left the streets littered with rubble. Even the great aqueducts [canals on brides], which fed the city s taps and fountains, were broken down or chocked with vegetation. Many people had left the city and there werw open spaces where houses once stood. The palace of the emperors was deserted. The most important citizen was now the Bishop of Rome- the Pope [father] of the Christian Church. Cristianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire and there were by this time many Christians in Western Europe, including barbarians who had been converted. Some of them still looked to Rome and the Pope for leadership and guidance. Benedict was a deeply religious young man. He was shocked by the lawless and sinful behaviour of many Romans. So he have up his studies, left the city and travelled eastwards to the hills. There, on the mountain of Subiaco, he found a cave and lived alone as a hermit. To Benedict it seemed the best way of getting closer to God and living a truly Christian life.

After some years Benedict left Subiaco with a small band of his closest followers. They travelled south, to the top of hill overloking the village of Monte Cassino, and there, about the year 525, Benedict founded his first and most famous monastery. He lived at Monte Cassino until his death in 543. Some of the time he spent writing a Rule for monks to live by. This Benedictine Rule, which is in fact a large number of rules, is still practised today by monks in many countries.

St Benedict s idea of a monastery was a place where ordinary men would want to come and lead a Christian life, praying and working together. He ordered that the monks clothes, although plain, should be warm and comfortable. They were to have a good eight hours of sleep, and two daily meals of simple but nourishing food. No personal belongings were allowed. Even a monk s clothes were the property of the monastery. A monk could not receive a letter from his parents without the abbot s agreement. On top of this there were strict rules about silence. The monks were rarely allowed to speak to each other. And, of course, all relationships with women were forbidden. St Benedict s Rule was practical and full of common sense. In the year to come monasteries all over Europe copied it. Nuns, too, lived according to its basic vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. Their example encouraged ordinary ...

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