Saint of the Day – 23 August – St Philip Benezi – Servite Priest Confessor, Reformer, Preacher, Medical Doctor – (15 August (Feast of the Assumption and the day that the Blessed Virgin appeared to the first of the Founders of the Servite Order) 1233 at district of Oltrarno, Florence, Italy – 22 August (Octave of the Assumption i.e. the Feast of the Queenship of Mary) 1285 at Todi, Italy). The Church of the Servites of Mary in Todi, Umbria, contains the body of St Philip Benizi, whose statue is the work of Bernini. St Philip was Beatified on 8 October 1645 by Pope Innocent X and Canonised on 12 April 1671 by Pope Clement X – he was first Servite to be canonised.
Saint Philip Benizi was born in Florence on the Feast of the Assumption, 1233 of a noble family. That same day the Order of Servites was founded by the Mother of God. As an infant one year old, Philip spoke when in the presence of these new religious and announced the Servants of the Virgin. Amid all the temptations of his youth, he longed to become a Servant of Mary and it was only the fear of his own unworthiness which made him yield to his father’s wish and begin to study medicine. He received the bonnet of a doctor of medicine at Padua.
After long and weary waiting, his doubts were solved one day by Our Lady Herself, who in a vision during a Mass in Florence offered in the Servite Chapel, bade him enter Her Order. Still Philip dared only offer himself as a lay brother and saying nothing of his studies, in this humble state he strove to do penance for his sins. Two Dominican Fathers traveling with him one day recognised the great talents, wisdom and knowledge which he had succeeded in concealing. They talked to his Superiors and he was told to prepare for the priesthood. As a priest he did immense good. He pacified many dissensions, common among the city-states of those days. One day he met a leper, almost naked and having no money, gave him his tunic. When the leper put it on, he was instantly cured.
Thereafter honours were accorded him in rapid succession; he became General of the Order and only by flight did he escape elevation to the Papal throne; he retired to a grotto in the mountains until the conclave had ended. His preaching restored peace to Italy, wasted by civil wars. He was sent not only to various cities of that country but to the Netherlands and Germany, where he converted many, not without opposition and even a flogging by rebels. At the Council of Lyons, he spoke to the assembled prelates with the gift of tongues. Amid all these favours Philip lived in extreme penitence, constantly examining his soul before God and condemning himself as only fit for hell.
Saint Philip, though he was free from every stain of mortal sin, was never weary of beseeching God’s mercy. From the time he was ten years old he daily prayed the Penitential Psalms. On his deathbed he recited verses of the Miserere, his cheeks streaming with tears; during his agony he went through a terrible contest to overcome the fear of damnation. But a few minutes before he died, all his doubts disappeared and were succeeded by a holy trust. He uttered the responses to the final prayers in a low but audible voice and when at last the Mother of God appeared before him, he lifted up his arms with joy and breathed a gentle sigh, as if placing his soul in Her hands. He died on the Octave of the Assumption – which is now the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, 1285.
An ancient chronicle recounts that “in the time of his transfer, when the brothers took the sarcophagus in which his most holy body laid, from one part of the church to a more honourable part of the church, they noticed that all of the images in the church turned towards his precious body and kneeled in supplication, miraculously praying to him.
“That same day the whole city of Todi was filled with a sweet soft smell that came
from the religious reliques and having secretly opened the tomb, the brothers were clearly alerted by everyone who ran from the city, after having touched the holy reliques, they reacquired the sight of the marvelous general. The son of
a widow, who died that same day, was brought to the tomb and he was immediately revived. Also many paralyzed people, handicapped people and sick people, while praying in the church that day of the transfer, were cured. So many in fact, sick and deformed came to the tomb of the man of God and returned home healthy and happy, thanking God infinitely.”
It is said that the title of “Our Lady of the Divine Providence”, came from Saint Philip Benizi, fifth superior of the Servants of Mary, who one day called out for the protection of the Virgin when the brothers had nothing to eat. St Philip then found two baskets of bread at the door of the monastery and no one knew how they got there.
Five scenes from his life were painted in the early 16th century by the Florentine Andrea del Sarto: “His Charity to a Leper,” “The Smiting of the Blasphemers,” “The Cure of the Woman Possessed with a Devil,” “The Resurrection of Two Children near the Tomb of the Saint” and “The Veneration of his Relics.” These are murals and too faded to post.
There is a statue of him on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic. Designed in 1714, this statue was made from Salzburg marble and donated by the Servites convent in Prague. The statue portrays him holding a cross, a book and a spray. By his legs there is the crown of the pope. A clay model of this statue can be found in the Salzburg museum. The second statue below is on the Colonade at St Peter’s.