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St. Benedict Icon (McGough)

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PCC501 Package of 25 icon holy cards


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3 x 5

Item Details:

Unlike most icons of our order’s patron saint which portray him as a rather stern looking old man, this one shows him at a younger age, abbot’s staff in one hand and his famous rule in the other, accompanied by a raven and thorn bush, symbols of his life as a hermit in Subiaco.

Icon holy cards are 3" x 5", a convenient size for use as gifts or bookmarks. The backs are blank except for a faint colophon at the bottom, leaving plenty of room for custom imprinting with your own message.

Image Origins

Saint Benedict of Nursia lived in Italy from about 480 to 547 AD. He was not the founder of Christian monasticism, but he made an enormous contribution to it by writing his Rule for Monks, still used by a great many monasteries and convents around the world. The only source of information we have about the life of Saint Benedict is The Second Book of Dialogues, written by Saint Gregory the Great, a Benedictine monk and Pope from 590 to 604. Gregory was born before Benedict died and had access to monks who knew him. However, the purpose of St. Gregory’s book was to educate and inspire believers, not to record biographical facts. Most icons of Saint Benedict that have been produced over the centuries show him as a rather grouchy-looking old man. This contemporary creation by Sister Mary Charles McGough shows the saint as a younger, more appealing figure.

Theology and Symbolism

In The Second Book of Dialogues, Pope Gregory the Great paints an icon in words rather than a realistic portrait of Saint Benedict. What matters for Gregory is not the particulars of Benedict’s life as an individual, but rather the "type" of the holy man realized in his life and actions. Benedict is presented as a lawgiver, a shepherd, a wonder-worker, a prophet, and an ascetic. Our reproduction of this icon of Saint Benedict is a realization of the icon painted in words by Gregory the Great. In his left hand, Benedict holds his Rule for Monks, the rule for monastic living followed by our community at Conception Abbey and by Benedictine and other orders of monks and nuns throughout the world. Benedict is the new Moses, a lawgiver. Benedict holds in his right hand a pastoral staff or crosier, a symbol of the shepherd’s role his Rule for Monks expects of an abbot and spiritual leader. Benedict is the new David, shepherd and king of his people. Perched on a thorn bush, a raven holds a piece of bread in its beak. From the Dialogues we know that this bread was poisoned and given to Saint Benedict by a jealous priest. The wonder-worker and prophet Benedict knew the bread was poisoned and commanded the raven to take it away. The saint felt the pain of the priest’s hatred, less for himself than for the priest. The obedient raven recalls the Old Testament prophet Elijah, fed in his cave by a raven for many years. Benedict’s charity toward the priest recalls David’s kindness toward his enemies. The inclusion of a thorn bush in the image reminds us of Benedict’s ascetic nature. Tempted to sin against chastity, the saint threw himself naked into nearby thick bushes of brambles and nettles and so mastered his passions. In this he is the equal of the great desert fathers, especially Anthony, the first hermit.

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