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The vision of St. Benedict — the world as a community
By MICHAEL GAFFNEY AVALANCHE-JOURNAL


Several frescoes depict "Stories of St. Benedict of Nursia" (480-543). The frescoes were found in Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura (St. Agnes outside the Wall Church) in Rome and are believed to have been painted between 1280 and 1300.
Vatican Exhibit 2002 Foundation
While no one is certain about the images depicted on the Vatican exhibit frescoes, religious and art historians identified several of the portraits, including St. Benedict.

Each prophet and saint has legends based on oral traditions that passed down through history, and the Catholic Church promulgates those, said David Walker of Walker Communi cations, the public relations firm working with "Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums Collection," which opens June 2 in Lubbock.

"Although we may not know for sure who is depicted, the best guess by church officials is certain to be the most likely," he said.

Several frescoes from Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura (St. Agnes outside the Walls Church) depict images of St. Benedict of Nursia (A.D. 480-543), said the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, director of The Vatican Exhibit 2002 Foundation.

photo: news
  This fresco, one of three "Stories of St. Benedict of Nursia," deals with the Roman Catholic saint who is credited with founding Western monasticism.  
Ranging in size from 2.3-by-4.4 feet to 5.6-by-5.2 feet, the frescoes are titled, "Stories of St. Benedict."

"St. Benedict saw the need for reflection, meditation and prayer for humanity," Neyland said. "Therefore, he started the Benedictine Order, which is still vibrant and active today."

St. Benedict is credited with founding Western monasticism. The Benedictines stress education and the importance of conscience in decision-making, Neyland said. Reaching out to the poor and destitute was a principle rule of St. Benedict, he said.

Benedict's boyhood was spent in Rome, where he lived with his parents and attended school until he reached the higher studies.

His influence on the church was sweeping, according to historical records.

The only account of his life was written by Pope Gregory the Great almost 50 years after Benedict's death, according to the book, "All Saints: Daily Reflections On Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time," by Robert Ellsberg.

Benedict gave up his books, his father's house and wealth, and left Rome, seeking to serve God, Neyland said. He looked for some place away from the life of the great city, and he lived in a cave near a church dedicated to St. Peter.

Visiting exhibit

• Title: "Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums Collection."

• When: June 2-Sept. 15.

• Where: Museum of Texas Tech.

• Tickets: Free. However, tickets must be reserved in advance. Those reserving tickets must know the date and time of day that they want to attend.

• Information: 742-6800 or (866) 803-6873.

Sources

• The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III, copyright 1908, by Robert Appleton Co.; Internet Online Edition, copyright 1999, by Kevin Knight)

He attracted the attention of spiritual seekers and, against his will, assumed leadership of a nearby monastery. The monks resisted his discipline and tried to poison his wine. Somehow he foiled the assassination attempt and returned to a life of solitude, the book states.

But disciples continued to seek his counsel. Eventually, Benedict organized them into a group of monasteries and sought to live in association with a company of virtuous men who sympathized with his feelings and views of life, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II.

Benedict assumed leadership of one of those communities and eventually established the monastery at Monte Cassino, known today as the birthplace of the Benedictine order.

Benedict's teachings derived from a central purpose — work. According to the saint, work is the first condition of all growth in goodness.

"As teachers and writers, the Benedictines continue to reflect the concepts which Christ gave us of an informed will, of a sound and informed conscience," Neyland said, "and the use of conscience in major areas of conflicts which require compassion, as exemplified by Christ himself."

Benedict's Rule was designed for ordinary people. Unlike the harsh self-denial promulgated by other ascetics as the road to God, Benedict focused on the will rather than the body.

His monks were not to be denied adequate food or sleep. They were counseled to avoid any extraordinary or self-imposed mortifications. Their discipline was to lie in their humility, a commitment to stability and accommodation to the requirements of community life.

Serving the poor and educating those who had no opportunity to learn were St. Benedict's aims, Neyland said.

"He lived in a century and time in which he saw the need for mass education, and he looked around and saw there were very few who had that capacity or ability," he said, adding, "Through his high intellectual abilities, he was an avid student of the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, men who were very highly educational and who would use science as well as nature as proof of the existence of God."

When he died, St. Benedict was buried at Monte Cassino, Ellsberg writes.

Observing the nearly 900-year-old frescoes, one looks through a telescope to the past and glimpses something of the minds and hearts of the artists, Neyland said.

Artists often mirror broad views, values, beliefs and concepts of their time, he said.

Gary Edson, executive director for The Museum of Texas Tech, said, "In more recent times, there's been a renewed look at the way art historians traditionally looked at religious art. And that is not only as social commentary ... but as the development of artistic style, and the broader amount of information provided by art as an illustration of a time and place in history.

"Most of the recent views of art that had its foundation in (religion) have presented it now for its social commentary, as well as for its aesthetic value."

The frescoes — painted with pigments mixed by hands that toiled hundreds of years ago, guided by minds that viewed the world nearly a millennia ago — evoke a kind of awe in some, Neyland said.

"The old prophets speak to us, even today," he said.

mgaffney@lubbockonline.com 766-2185




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