Saint of the Day – 12 January – St Benedict Biscop OSB (c 628-690)

Saint of the Day – 12 January – St Benedict Biscop OSB (c 628-690) (pronounced “bishop”) – Bishop and Abbot of Wearmouth, who introduced Stained Glass windows to England and raised the Venerable Saint Bede, Founder of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Priory (where he also founded the famous library) – he was known as a Bibliophile, Confessor, a man of great piety and learning. Born in c 628 in Northumbria, England as Benet Biscop and died on 12 January 690 of natural causes at Wearmouth, England. Patronages – English Benedictines, musicians, painters, Church libraries and librarians, Sunderland, England, St Benet Biscop Catholic Academy in Northumberland, England.

Benedict’s idea was to build a model Monastery for England, sharing his knowledge of the experience of the Church in Europe. It was the first Ecclesiastical building in Britain to be built in stone and the use of glass was a novelty for many in 7th-century England. It eventually possessed, what was a very large library for the time – several hundred volumes – and it was here, that Benedict’s student St Bede wrote his famous works. The library became world-famous and manuscripts that had been copied there became prized possessions throughout Europe, including especially the Codex Amiatinus, the earliest surviving manuscript of the complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate version.

Benet was born of the highest Anglo-Saxon nobility. He held office in the household of King Oswy (Oswiu) of Northumbria. But, after a journey to Rome, the first of his five such trips, when his was 25 (653) in the company of Saint Wilfrid, the saint renounced his inheritance and dedicated himself to God. He then spent his time in studying the Scriptures and prayer. Following a second visit to Rome with Oswy’s son Aldfrith in 666, he became a Monk in the Monastery of Saint-Honorat in Lerins near Cannes, France, taking the name Benedict. He remained there for two years strictly observing the rule.

His third pilgrimage to Rome in 669, coincided with the visit of Archbishop-elect Wighard of Canterbury, who died there, prior to his consecration. Saint Theodore was finally selected to replace Wighard as Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Saint Vitalian, ordered Benedict to accompany Theodore and Saint Adrian to England, as a Missionary, which he did in obedience. Theodore appointed Benedict Abbot of Sts Peter and Paul (now St Augustine’s) Monastery in Canterbury, where he remained for two years before returning to Northumbria. (He was succeeded as Abbot by Saint Adrian, whose feast day was yesterday and who held this position for 39 years.)

Thereafter, Saint Benedict travelled to and fro between Britain and Rome (beginning in 671), returning always with books and relics and bringing back with him craftsmen to build and enrich the Churches of Britain. This fourth journey was made, with the view of perfecting himself in the rules and practice of a monastic life, so he stayed a while in Rome and visited other Monasteries.

In 674, he was granted 70 hides of land by Oswy’s son, Egfrid, at the mouth of the river Wear (Wearmouth), where he built a great stone Church and Monastery dedicated to Saint Peter. He was the first to introduce glass into England, which he brought from France along with stone and other materials. His foreign masons, glaziers and carpenters taught their skill to the Anglo-Saxons. He spared no trouble or effort in seeking far and wide for all that would richly embellish his Romanesque church.

Partly in ruins, St Peter’s Monastery and Church

From his trip to Rome in 679, Benedict brought back Abbot John of Saint Martin’s, the precentor (Archcantor) from Saint Peter’s. This was a result of Benedict persuading Pope Saint Agatho that Abbot John would be able to instruct the English monks, so that the music and ceremonies at Wearmouth might follow exactly the Roman pattern. Upon his return to England, he held training classes in the use and practice of church music, liturgy and chants. (John also taught the English monks uncial script and wrote instructions on the Roman liturgy for them.)

But, chiefly, he brought books, for he was a passionate collector. His ambition was to establish a great library in his Wearmouth Monastery. He also imported pictures from Rome and Vienne, beautiful paintings and musical scores. Among these treasures imported from Rome were a series of paintings of Gospels scenes, of Our Lady and the Apostles and of incidents described in the Book of Revelation, to be set up in the church.

Benedict also devised his rule based on that of Saint Benedict and those of the 17 Monasteries he had visited. He doubtlessly organised the scriptorium in which was written the manuscript of the Bible which, his successor as Prior at Wearmouth, Saint Ceolfrid, took with him in 716 as a present to Pope Saint Gregory II – the very book was identified in the Biblioteca Laurentiana at Florence in 1887, the famous Codex Amiatinus. All this immeasurably enriched the early English Church.

Because his Monastery and Church at Wearmouth was so edifying, in 682 Egfrid gave him a further gift of forty hides of land, this time at Jarrow on the Tyne River. Here he established a second Monastery, six miles from St. Peter’s and dedicated it to Saint Paul (now called Jarrow) in 685, which became famous as a great centre of learning in the West and the home of Saint Bede. our Saint’s charge and spiritual son. Among its inmates were many Saxon thanes turned Monks, who ploughed and winnowed and worked at the forge, like the rest and at night, slept in the common dormitory, for rank and class had no place among them.

St Benedict Biscop with St Bede

And because Benedict was busier than ever with all his enterprises and still governed both Abbeys, he handed over some of his authority. Benedict first took to help him at Wearmouth, his nephew, Saint Eosterwin, a noble like himself and then Saint Sigfrid. In Jarrow, he placed Saint Ceolfrid in charge. While Benedict still ruled the Abbeys as their Founder, he made these men the Abbots under his direction of the two foundations, so that the Monasteries would not be without leadership during his absences.

Benedict made his last voyage to Rome in 685, returning with even more books and sacred images and some fine silk cloaks of exceptional workmanship, which he exchanged with the King for three hides of land.

It was due to Benedict Biscop that so much material lay to hand for Bede and other scholars and that, a solid foundation was laid for the later glories of the English Church. After his death, the school at Jarrow alone, comprised 600 scholars, apart from the flow of constant visitors. It was also in large part due to him, that the Church of Northumbria turned from the old Celtic forms, to those of Rome. Out of his labours and travels came a rich and abundant harvest.

At the end of his life, Benedict suffered from a painful paralysis in his lower limbs. (It is interesting to note that Sigfrid was afflicted with the same paralysis about the same time.) Throughout his three-year confinement, he asked the Monks to come into his room to sing Psalms and he joined them when he could. His last exhortations to his Monks, before he died at age 62, were to continue his work, to preserve his great library, to follow the monastic Rule of Saint Benedict and, to elect an Abbot, based on his holiness and ability rather than his lineage. He said, he would rather the Monasteries be turned into wildernesses than to have his brother succeed him as Abbot.

Benedict’s biography was written by Saint Bede, who had been entrusted to his care at age seven and whose learning was made possible by the library Benedict collected at Jarrow. Bede, the historian, says that the civilisation and learning of the 8th century rested in the Monastery founded by Benedict.

Proof of a very early public cultus of Benedict Biscop comes from a sermon of Bede on him (Homily 17) for his feast but the cultus became more widespread only after the translation of his relics under Saint Ethelwold about 980. Saint Benedict’s relics are thought to rest at Thorney Abbey, although Glastonbury also claims some of them.

Below is a link to St Bede’s Life of Benedict Biscop from his Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow written c. 716:

And a link to an explanation of:
The Codex Amiatinus:



Saint of the Day – 9 March – St Catherine of Bologna OSC (1413-1463)

Saint of the Day – 9 March – St Catherine of Bologna OSC (1413-1463) – aged 49 – Religious Poor Clare nun – born on 8 September 1413 at Bologna, Italy as Caterina dei Vigri and died on 9 March 1453 at Bologna, Italy of natural causes.    Patronages – Bologna, Against temptations, Artists, Liberal arts.catherine of bologna

Catherine came from an upper class family, the daughter of Benvenuta Mammolini of Bologna and Giovanni Vigri, a Ferrarese notary.   She was raised at Niccolo III’s court as a lady-in-waiting to his wife Parisina d’Este (d. 1425) and became lifelong friends with his natural daughter Margherita d’Este (d. 1478).   During this time, she received some education in reading, writing, music, playing the viola, and had access to illuminated manuscripts in the d’Este Court library.

In 1426, after Niccolo III’s execution of Parisina d’Este for infidelity, Caterina left court and joined a lay community of beguines living a semi-religious life and following the Augustinian rule.    In 1431 the beguine house was converted into the Observant Poor Clare convent of Corpus Domini, which grew from 12 women in 1431 to 144 women by the end of the century.   Sister Caterina lived at Corpus Domini, Ferrara most of her life from 1431 to 1456, serving as Mistress of Novices.

She was a model of piety and experienced miracles and several visions of Christ, the Virgin Mary, Thomas Becket and St Joseph, as well as future events, such as the fall of Constantinople in 1453.catherinebologna2 Caterina_-_Sette_armi_spirituali,_circa_1475_-_2367343.tif

She wrote a number of religious treatises, lauds, sermons and copied and illustrated her own breviary (see on the right).

In 1455 the Franciscans and the governors of Bologna requested that she become abbess of a new convent, which was to be established under the name of Corpus Domini in Bologna.   She left Ferrara in July 1456 with 12 sisters to start the new community and remained abbess there until her death on 9 March 1463.   Caterina was buried in the convent graveyard but after eighteen days, a sweet smell emanated from the grave and the incorrupt body was exhumed.   It was eventually relocated to a chapel where it remains on display, dressed in her religious habit, seated upright behind glass.   A contemporary Poor Clare, Sister Illuminata Bembo, wrote her biography in 1469.   A strong local Bolognese cult of Caterina Vigri developed and she became a Beata in the 1520s, but was not Canonised until 1712 by Pope Clement XI.Incorrupt body of 768px-Caterina-bologna.jpg

Catherine’s best known text is Seven Spiritual Weapons Necessary for Spiritual Warfare (Le Sette Armi Spirituali), which she appears to have first written in 1438 and then rewritten and augmented between 1450 and 1456.   Although she probably taught similar ideas, she kept the written version hidden until she neared death and then handed it to her confessor with instructions to send a copy to the Poor Clares at Ferrara. Part of this book describes at length her visions both of God and of Satan.   The treatise was circulated in manuscript form through a network of Poor Clare convents.   It was first printed in 1475 and went through 21 later editions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including being translated in Latin, French, Portuguese, English, Spanish and German.   It therefore played an important role in the dissemination of late medieval vernacular mysticism in the early modern period.

In addition, she wrote lauds, short religious treatises and letters, as well as a 5000-line Latin poem called the Rosarium Metricum, the I Dodici Giardini and I Sermoni.   These were discovered around 2000 and described by Cardinal Giacomo Biffi – as “now revealed in their surprising beauty.   We can ascertain that she was not undeserving of her renown as a highly cultivated person.   We are now in a position to meditate on a veritable monument of theology which, after the Treatise on the Seven Spiritual Weapons, is made up of distinct and autonomous parts – The Twelve Gardens, a mystical work of her youth, Rosarium, a Latin poem on the life of Jesus and The Sermons, copies of Catherine’s words to her religious sisters.”catherine of bologna artwork

St Catherine represents the rare phenomenon of a fifteenth-century nun-artist whose artworks are preserved in her personal breviary.   She meditated while she copied the scriptural text, adding about 1000 prayer rubrics and drew initials with bust-portraits of saints, paying special attention to images of Saints Clare and Francis.   Besides multiple images of Christ and the infant swaddled Christ Child, she depicted other saints, including Thomas Becket, Jerome, Paul, Anthony of Padua, Mary Magdalene, her name saint Catherine of Alexandria.   Her self-taught style incorporated motifs from needlework and devotional prints.   Some saints’ images, interwoven with text and rubrics, display an idiosyncratic, inventive iconography.

Other panel paintings and manuscripts attributed to her include the Madonna and Child (nicknamed the Madonna del Pomo) in the Cappella della Santa, a possible portrait or self-portrait (?) in the autograph copy of the Sette Armi Spirituali, a Redeemer and another Madonna and Child in her chapel.

Madonna and Child – attributed to St Catherine

A drawing of a Man of Sorrows or Resurrected Christ found in a miscellany of lauds has also been attributed to her.   St Catherine is significant as a woman artist who articulated an aesthetic philosophy.   She explained that although it took precious time, the purpose of her religious art was “to increase devotion for herself and others”.


Saint of the Day – 4 December – St John Damascene (675-749) C onfessor, Father & Doctor of the Church

Saint of the Day – 4 December – St John Damascene (675-749)Confessor,  Father & Doctor of the Church – Priest, Monk, Theologian, Writer, Defender of Iconography, Poet, a Polymath whose fields of interest and contribution included law, theology, philosophy, music, Marian devotee.  Also known as Doctor of Christian Art, Jean Damascene, Johannes Damascenus, John Chrysorrhoas (“golden-stream”), John of Damascus.   Born in c 675 at Damascus, Syria and died in 749 of natural causes.   Patronages –  pharmacists, artists, theologians and theology john damascene lg

Eastern Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics, whose tradition has been particularly shaped by his insights, celebrate the saint’s feast on the same day as the Roman Catholic Church.   Among Eastern Christians, St John (676-749) is best known for his defence of Christian sacred art, particularly in the form of icons.   While the churches of Rome and Constantinople were still united during St John’s life, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III broke radically from the ancient tradition of the church, charging that the veneration of Christian icons was a form of idolatry.

Saint John was born in the late 7th century and is the most remarkable of the Greek writers of the 8th century.   His father was a civil authority who was Christian amid the Saracens of Damascus, whose caliph made him his minister.   This enlightened man found in the public square one day, amid a group of sad Christian captives, a priest of Italian origin who had been condemned to slavery, he ransomed him and assigned him to his young son to be his tutor.   Young John made extraordinary progress in grammar, dialectic, mathematics, music, poetry, astronomy but above all in theology, the discipline imparting knowledge of God.   John became famous for his encyclopedic knowledge and theological method, later a source of inspiration to Saint Thomas Aquinas.

During the 720s, the upstart theologian began publicly opposing the emperor’s command against sacred images in a series of writings.   The heart of his argument was twofold – first, that Christians did not actually worship images but rather, through them they worshipped God, and honoured the memory of the saints.   Second, he asserted that by taking an incarnate physical form, Christ had given warrant to the Church’s depiction of Him in images.StJohnDamascene

By 730, the young public official’s persistent defence of Christian artwork had made him a permanent enemy of the emperor, who had a letter forged in John’s name offering to betray the Muslim government of Damascus.   The ruling caliph of the city, taken in by the forgery, is said to have cut off John’s hand.   The saint’s sole surviving biography states that the Virgin Mary acted to restore it miraculously.   John eventually managed to convince the Muslim ruler of his innocence, before making the decision to become a monk and later a priest.

Although a number of imperially-convened synods condemned John’s advocacy of Christian iconography, the Roman church always regarded his position as a defence of apostolic tradition.   Years after the priest and monk died, the Seventh Ecumenical Council vindicated his orthodoxy and ensured the permanent place of holy images in both Eastern and Western Christian

St John Damascene’s other notable achievements include the “Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” a work in which he systematised the earlier Greek Fathers’ thinking about theological truths in light of philosophy.   The work exerted a profound influence on St Thomas Aquinas and subsequent scholastic theologians.   Centuries later, St John’s sermons on the Virgin Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven were cited in Pope Pius XII’s dogmatic definition on the subject.

The saint also contributed as an author and editor, to some of the liturgical hymns and poetry that Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics still use in their celebrations of the liturgy.

“Show me the icons that you venerate, that I may be able to understand your faith.” – Saint John of john damascene