Every Tuesday evening here at the Beguinnage, after supper, omitting the usual Prioress’ blessing, the sisters walk to the St Benedict statue (complete with raven) in silence to say several prayers. This was curious to me at the beginning of my time here at the Beguinnage, but I obediently followed, understanding nothing (now I catch a word or two) hoping somehow St Benedict would bless me too. The prayers closed with “St. Benedict pray for us”… that part I got. Now after the St Benedict pilgrimage in Italy with my home convent, personally, I know more than I could want to know about becoming a saint and certainly more than I can practice in this lifetime! The trip included monasteries named for St Benedict, the cave where he withdrew from the world to seek God, the rose garden (still in bloom) where he threw himself into a thorn bush rather than be overcome with sinful thoughts and more frescoes of more miracles performed than could be taken in. In childhood, one of my favorite songs at church was ‘I sing a song of the saints of God’; one verse said you could meet them in trains or in shops or at tea. Somehow that was strangely comforting in the innocence and naïveté of childhood; I too could become a saint. Now, I feel quite sure that this shall not happen to me!
One day early in my stay at the Beguinnage, I inquired about the accompanying raven on the St. Benedict statue and a sister said, “Yes it was important but I can not remember the story.” After spending a week with St. Benedict and his life and miracles in art on frescoed walls, I definitely know the story of the raven. A jealous priest from a nearby parish sent poisoned bread for the man of God. Now, the raven who came daily for a ration of bread from St. Benedict’s hand was commanded this day to take the bread and deposit it where noone could find it. The raven was agitated, as you can imagine, and apparently circled the bread and croaked not wanting to obey and perhaps to warn St. Benedict. Saints seem to have special relationships with God’s other created creatures. Benedict was insistent and told the raven no harm would come to him. At last off the raven obediently went, returning only after three hours for his daily ration of bread from St Benedict’s hand. Appropriately, many statues have the accompanying raven with St. Benedict as does ours at the Beguinnage and of course many many frescoes from many different centuries commemorate this story of the raven.
St. Benedict has a prominent and ever watchful position here at the Beguinnage. A picture of him with the rule is over the door to the refectory/ dining room where the sisters enter and leave at least three times a day. At the doors to the Chapter room is the statue. Here important community decisions are taken in common; the statue reminds the sisters as they enter the seriousness of truth and wisdom, harmony and peace. These Benedictine virtues are to be maintained and guarded as the community is guided. “St. Benedict pray for us.”