The Medal of Saint Benedict
by Fr. Bernardine Patterson OSB
We know that in his frequent combats with the evil spirit, he generally made use of the sign of the Cross and by it wrought many miracles. St. Gregory the Great (d. 604), the first Benedictine Pope, in his biography of the great Patriarch1, represents St. Benedict as dispelling his own temptations by the sign of the Cross. It is also fitting that on the Medal of St. Benedict we should find represented the poisoned cup broken by the sign of the Cross that the Saint made over it when the degenerate monks of Vico Varo endeavored to rid themselves of the Saint by mixing poison with his drink. St. Gregory says that when St. Benedict made the sign of the Cross over the cup, it was shattered as if struck by a stone.
At another time, Satan, desirous of instilling fear into the brethren, made the monastery appear to be on fire. By the power of the sacred sign of our Savior's Passion, the imaginary flames disappeared. In the Holy Rule St. Benedict legislates that the monk, at his profession should set the sign of the Cross as an irrevocable seal on the written formula of his vows.
St. Benedict's disciples also had great confidence in the power of this sacred sign. St. Maurus and St. Placidus, his first and most renowned disciples, wrought numerous miracles through the power of the Holy Cross and in the name of their holy Founder.
The Medal of St. Benedict, according to an old tradition, became widely known through the following occurrence. Bruno, afterward Pope Leo IX, had in his youth been bitten by a venomous reptile, in consequence of which he was seriously ill for two months. He had lost the use of speech and in a short time was reduced to a skeleton. All hopes of his recovery had been abandoned when suddenly he beheld a luminous ladder that reached to heaven from which descended a venerable old man wearing the habit of a monk. It was St. Benedict, bearing in his hand a radiant cross with which he touched the swollen face of Bruno, and instantly cured him. Then the apparition disappeared.
Bruno, who had been healed in such a miraculous manner, later entered the Order of St. Benedict. He ascended the papal throne in the year 1048, under the name of Leo IX and was renowned in the Church for his sanctity, his devotion to the Holy Cross, and to St. Benedict. He was later canonized. Through this pope the Medal of St. Benedict was enriched with special blessings, and its veneration spread far and wide.2
However true that tradition may be, we are certain that in the year 1647 the Medal was known. In that year, an old manuscript, a copy of the Gospels, dating back to the year 1415, was found in the Benedictine monastery of Metten, in Bavaria, which gave a clue to the origin of certain mysterious crosses marked here and there on the walls of the monastery and surrounded by letters whose meaning was then unknown. On the last page of this book was a pen-picture representing St. Benedict with the Cross in one hand and a sort of banner or scroll in the other. On the staff of the Cross and on the scroll, were written the words of which the mysterious characters engraven on the walls were the initials.
The discovery of the pen-picture with its cross and verses, gave a new impulse to the devotion to the Cross as well as to St. Benedict, who, as we have mentioned before, had applied that holy sign with so much effect. Medals, as symbols of this twofold devotion, were struck and distributed among the people. Their pious use soon became for them a source of many temporal and spiritual blessings. The numerous and extraordinary favors attained procured for them a wide and rapid spread, not only in Germany, where they were first struck, but in all parts of Catholic Europe. Only a few years later, St. Vincent de Paul, who died in 1660, appears to have been acquainted with the value of the Medal. The Sisters of Charity founded by him have, from time immemorial, worn it attached to their rosary beads, and for many years it was made in France for them alone.
Finally, in 1741, Pope Benedict XIV, moved by the many favors which God had shown through the Medal, and desirous that all should share these blessings, solemnly approved the devotion and recommended it to the faithful. As a further inducement, the same holy Pontiff enriched the Medal with numerous indulgences.
At present we distinguish two types of medals. The first described and approved by Pope Benedict XIV, is found in various shapes--oblong, round, and square. It is known as the Ordinary Medal. The second, called the Jubilee or Centenary Medal, is round only and more artistic than the former, designed in the Beuronese style of sacred art.
1 Book II of the Dialogues, Chap. 4.
2 Van Speybrouck, Edward, Father Paul of Moll, p. 357.
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