Benedict, Scholastica and Gertrude
St. Benedict of Nursia
“Listen carefully, my daughter, to the master’s instruction, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”
Benedict was born in Nursia (also spelled Norcia), Italy, around 480. The Roman Empire was crumbling, both physically and spiritually, and times in Europe were very unstable.
Deeply affected by the increased tyranny, Benedict retreated into the hills of Subiaco and lived as a hermit for three years. Often depicted with a raven, tradition has it that the birds fed Benedict during this time.
People were drawn to Benedict and his spiritual example. A great number of men gathered around Benedict because they saw his holiness and desired to seek God.
Benedict founded twelve monasteries. As he explored this way of life, he read extensively from the writings of his spiritual predecessors, drawing from their wisdom to create a set of guidelines for those entering the monasteries. This guide came to be known as the Rule of St. Benedict. Focusing on a balance of stability, respect, prayer and communal living, it offered an example of how life could be lived, even during societal and cultural upheaval.
St. Benedict’s death is celebrated by Benedictines each year on March 21 but, because it falls during Lent, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. Benedict annually on July 11.
Like her twin brother, Benedict, Scholastica was born in Norcia, Italy, around 480.
Little is recorded of her early life, except that she dedicated herself to God at a young age. After Benedict left to pursue his own spiritual journey, there is a gap until Scholastica is mentioned as living in a monastery of women at Monte Cassino, just five miles from the monastery where Benedict lived.
The twins visited once a year, sharing prayer and conversation, at a location between the two monasteries. On one such occasion, in the year 542, when it was time for Benedict to return to his monastery, Scholastica prayed to prolong the visit. It began raining heavily, and Benedict was unable to travel.
Their discussion of spiritual matters went on through the night and, according to the account written by St. Gregory the Great, Scholastica died three days later. Benedict saw in a vision his sister ascending from earth in the form of a dove, which is why she is depicted artistically holding a dove.
St. Scholastica’s feast day is February 11.
St. Gertrude of Helfta
St. Gertrude was born on the Feast of the Epiphany, 1256. It is speculated that she was offered as a child oblate to the Church by devout parents. In her own writings, however, Gertrude called herself an orphan.
She was admitted to school at the Benedictine Abbey at Helfta in Saxony in 1261. She entered the Helfta convent upon completion of her studies. Shortly after her 25th birthday, she experienced the first in a series of visions which ultimately transformed her life.
In 1289, Gertrude heard Christ ask her to write a spiritual autobiography. Known as The Herald of God’s Lovingkindness, Gertrude describes her awakening as one which made Christ so real that she was able to overcome all resistance within herself and move toward unconditional surrender to God’s love.
Gertrude also wrote Spiritual Exercises, an arrangement of prayers, hymns, and reflections centered around the themes and rites of church liturgy. The Exercises were used by the Helfta community, by Gertrude herself, and by those who came to Gertrude for spiritual direction. Today, people seeking a deeper spirituality may find Spiritual Exercises helpful.
The Feast of St. Gertrude is celebrated on November 16, the date of her death in 1301 or 1302.