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July 11 is the feast of St. Benedict, the father of monasticism.
In a video featuring Benedictine College’s mascot, Rocky the Raven, St. Benedict’s Abbey on campus created a modern-day version of one of the most famous stories of Benedict’s life.
Many depictions of St. Benedict include a raven, in honor of the bird that saved the saint and his monks from poisoning.
In his story of St. Benedict’s life, St. Gregory the Great tells the story this way:
At dinner time, a raven used to visit St. Benedict from the nearby woods. The saint would feed the bird, in harmony with the words of the Gospel of Luke: “Think of the ravens. They do not sow or reap; they have not storehouses or barns, yet God feeds them” (Luke 12:24).
The saint was a beloved figure in his own time, like St. Francis, and his reputation for holiness spread near and far. This made a wicked churchman angry. He envied St. Benedict and his monks, and so he bad-mouthed the saint and talked pilgrims from going to visit him.
Despite the jealous rival’s best efforts, however, Benedict kept reaching more and more souls, until the wicked churchman had had enough. He sent the holy man a gift of a loaf of bread. It appeared to be a peace offering, but it was laced with poison.
In this case, however, St. Benedict knew that the loaf was poisoned, and instead of eating the loaf, the bird rescued the saint and anyone else who would eat the bread by taking it far away.
Wrote St. Gregory:
“Then the raven, opening its beak wide and spreading its wings, began to run around the bread, cawing, as if to indicate that it wanted to obey but was unable to carry out the order. Again and again the man of God told him to do it, saying, ‘Pick it up, pick it up. Do not be afraid. Just drop it where it cannot be found.’ After hesitating a long time, the raven took the bread in its beak, picked it up and flew away. Three hours later it came back, after having thrown the bread away, and received its usual ration from the hands of the man of God.”
Ever since, the story has been told that the raven saved the early Benedictines by denying them this poisoned food.