Most people, Catholics included, don't realize how indebted the Church, Europe and the world are to St. Benedict of Nursia. The very presence of his monks in their monasteries became a stabilizing, civilizing factor no matter where they planted themselves. It was from these centers of great learning and prayer that monks and nuns went about their zealous work of evangelizing. It should be pointed out that many of Europe's greatest cities started out as little more than ramshackle Benedictine monasteries. “Munich” is the German word for “monk.” “Monaco” on the French Riviera, is the Italian word for “monk.”
As Christ is the vine, the Benedictines are the branches. Like kudzu, you simply drop monks off someplace and run. Hopefully you won't get trampled in their evangelical wake.
It's a pity so many Westerners, including Catholics, are ignorant of all that Benedict and his merry band of followers, many of whom labored in holy obscurity, have done for Christendom. One hardly finds any mention of them in high school history books so thoroughly have secularists and anti-religionists remove all mentions of these hardy, pious monks from world history.
Nearly all of these monasteries hosted monastery schools for youngsters. Many of these schools ultimately become universities―the world's first universities. That's right: the Catholic Church started the word's first universities.
St. Benedict of Nursia, Italy (A.D. 480-543), the twin brother of St. Scholastica, is the Father of Western Monasticism. His Rule came to be the basis of organization for many religious orders, including the Franciscans and Dominicans.
For this and many others reasons, I've wanted to procure a St. Benedict Medal for myself, and for all of those who begged me to get them one, from St. Benedict's birthplace. Now, anyone could get one via the internet but that was much too pedestrian for me. For me, it was a bit of a pilgrimage and a bit of a treasure hunt.
As St. Benedict is invoked against evil, his medals are considered particularly efficacious against it. This is the medal the Church uses when she’s had just about enough.
The medal itself has an important prayer used in the Rite of Exorcism, in abbreviated form, on one side and an image of St. Benedict on the other. Apparently, that's all that's necessary to ward off evil.
The story of the medal is startling. Apparently, some monks sought out Benedict who had been living as a hermit in a cave for three years near Naples, Italy. He agreed, but he warned them he would urge them to greater piety and asceticism if he took the job.
Some of the lazier, more dissolute monks wanted him out of the picture, so they conspired to poison his bread and wine. Mystically warned of the treachery, Benedict made the Sign of the Cross over the food and the plot was foiled. At his blessing, the cup of wine shattered and he commanded the two crows who always accompanied him to carry off the poisoned bread depositing it in a place where it couldn’t harm anyone.
Originally, the medal was in the form of a cross and Catholic tradition teaches that Bruno of Egisheim-Dagsburg, the future Pope Leo IX, when he was a young Benedictine, nearly died of a snake bite. He attributed his eventual recovery to that Benedictine cross. He was emaciated and even lost the ability to speak and most people gave up on him. It was then when Bruno received a vision of a luminous ladder that reached to Heaven. Upon the ladder, he saw St. Benedict holding a radiant cross with which he touched Bruno instantly curing him. The apparition promptly disappeared.
When he became pope in A.D. 1049, Leo IX redesigned it as a medal to which he attributed blessings and indulgences. St. Vincent de Paul had a strong devotion to this sacramental and asked his Sisters of Charity to attach the medal to their rosary beads, which remains a common custom even today.
Pope Benedict XIV solemnly approved and recommended the use of the medal to the faithful in 1742.
The medal in current use is the Jubilee medal designed by the monk Desiderius Lenz, of the Beuron Art School. He designed it in 1880 for the 1400th anniversary of the birth of St. Benedict under the supervision of the prior of Montecassino, Very Rev. Boniface Krug (1838-1909) of Monte Cassino, Italy. Monte Cassino was given the exclusive right to strike this medal, with which special Jubilee indulgences were attached. The Jubilee Medal was first produced at St. Martin's Archabbey, Beuron, Germany, at the request of Prior Boniface who was a native of Baltimore and originally a monk of St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, until he was chosen to become prior and latter archabbot of Monte Cassino.
Once struck in Germany, the medals spread over Europe and the world. They were first approved by Benedict XIV in his briefs of Dec. 23, 1741 and March 12, 1742.
On the front of the medal is St. Benedict holding a cross and his rule. To one side is a poisoned cup and a raven on the other―both references to a Benedictine hagiography mentioned earlier. Above the cup are the words:
Crux sancti patris Benedicti
(The Cross of [our] Holy Father Benedict)
Surrounding St. Benedict are the words:
Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur!
("May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death")
This is a reference to the saint being a Patron of a Happy Death along with St. Joseph. On the back is a cross with the letters C S S M L - N D S M D. these are the initials of the words:
Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Non draco sit mihi dux!
("May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my overlord!")
The larger letters, C S P B, stand for:
Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti
("The Cross of [our] Holy Father Benedict").
Surrounding the back of the medal are the letters V R S N S M V - S M Q L I V B which refer to the prayer of the Rite of Exorcism:
Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana!
Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas!
("Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities!
What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!")
Finally, at the top is the word PAX which means "peace."
Though lay people, and most priests, are forbidden to conduct exorcisms, they are permitted to use the St. Benedict Medal to ward off evil. One is allowed to:
- wear the medal around the neck;
- attach it to one's rosary;
- kept in one's pocket or purse;
- attach it to one's keychain;
- affixed to one's car or home;
- placed in the foundation of a building;
- affixed to the center of a crucifix, usually behind the corpus.
According to Dom Gueranger, the medal is considered effective in:
- asking for inner peace/spiritual healing;
- asking peace between individuals or between nations of the world;
- curing bodily afflictions especially as protection against contagious diseases;
- destroying the effects of witchcraft and all other diabolical and haunting influences;
- healing those who are suffering from wounds or illness;
- obtaining the conversion of sinners, especially when they are in danger of death;
- offering protection against storms and lightning;
- protecting children from nightmares;
- protecting a mother and her children during childbirth;
- protecting animals infected with plague or other maladies;
- protecting fields infested by harmful insects;
- protecting or otherwise counter the effects of poison;
- protecting those persons who are tempted, deluded or tormented by evil spirits.
A Crucifix/St. Benedict Medal combination is called “The Cross of a Happy Death”—not only because of the exorcizing properties of the Medal and the image of Christ's Body, but because of St. Benedict's particular patronage based on his death of which Pope St. Gregory the Great (A.D. 540-604) described in his Dialogue:
Six days before [Benedict] left this world, he gave orders to have his sepulcher opened, and forthwith falling into an ague, he began with burning heat to wax faint; and when as the sickness daily increased, upon the sixth day he commanded his monks to carry him into the oratory, where he did arm himself receiving the Body and Blood of our Savior Christ; and having his weak body held up betwixt the hands of his disciples, he stood with his own hands lifted up to heaven; and as he was in that manner praying, he gave up his spirit.
A plenary indulgence is granted, under the usual conditions, to one who, at the hour of his death, kisses, touches, or otherwise reverences the Crucifix/St. Benedict Medal combination and commends his soul to God's care and protection.
A St. Benedict medal may be blessed by any bishop, abbot, priest or deacon, not necessarily a Benedictine (Instr., 26 Sept. 1964; Can. 1168). However, I was on a quest, and I can be pretty obstinate when I want to be. I wanted medals that had been specifically blessed/exorcised by the Abbot of the Monastero di San Benedetto in Norcia. I was in Umbria doing research for a novel I'm writing and wanted to make sure I saw Norcia. This monastery is located near the ruins of the house where St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica lived.
The monastery also sells CDs of their music and Birra Nursia―a surprisingly excellent beer which has only now been made available in the US―which I highly recommend.
The abbot was gracious enough to give me a handful of them with the admonition that I should be generous in giving them to people in spiritual need. I bring them wherever I go.
Like all sacramentals, this medal serves to remind us of God and His place in our lives. It reminds us to serve Him and love our neighbor. It's absolutely not a charm or talisman to bring “good luck” or repel evil, as that would be blasphemy. The medal has no intrinsic “magic ability.” (It should be pointed out that all power in the universe is in God's hands and doesn't reside elsewhere. In other words, people who claim to have magic powers are deluded and/or lying.)
To be clear, the medal has no power in and of itself. It is, after all, only so much aluminum or silver. To act as if it's magical is sacrilege and assuredly the best way to make sure you don't receive its spiritual benefits. Rather, its graces and favors are due to our faith in the Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer, to the efficacious prayers of St. Benedict, (James 5:16) and to the abundant blessings which the Church has bestowed upon those who wear and pray with the Medal.
This medal is highly esteemed by the Church and it’s often given to those who are spiritually afflicted or harassed.
We are assured extraordinary favors by combining the medal with special devotions in honor of St. Benedict often on Tuesdays. The Way of the Cross is also highly recommended and often associated with a devotion to the saint.
As it would be a simony to sell a St. Benedict Medal or, in fact, any sacramental, Benedictines will gladly give them to you for free. If you were to offer a donation secretly or at a later time, it would go a long way to help the monks with their apostolate.
Once you’ve procured a medal, make sure you keep I with you. When it’s used in faith, it will surely bring you to a greater love and appreciation of God.
This article originally appeared June 18, 2016, at the Register.