St. Benedict’s Legacy and Horticulture


July 11: St. Benedict of Nursia, ca. 480–547, Multiple Patronages; Horticulture

St. Benedict is a well-known and beloved saint, and there are volumes written about him. His guidance to other monks encouraged them to not fear, for all storms pass, to be humble, to trust in God, to receive all visitors as they would Christ, and to work and pray always.

Though St. Benedict did not intend to establish a religious order, he did intend for communities of monks to develop in specific and holy ways. St. Benedict also encouraged his followers to understand the relational nature of humans to each other, their neighbors, and the natural world. Part of his discipline for the monks was that all necessities for their living and providing for those in need should be supplied by the work of their own community. From within the monastery walls would come vegetables, fruit, dairy, fowl, fish, and provisions of medicinal and utilitarian herbs.

Because they were also scribes and illustrators, the Benedictines helped to preserve formulas for medicinal herbals and advanced horticultural gardening techniques. The Cistercians are another group of monks that developed from the Benedictines.

This order expanded horticultural knowledge in the area of agriculture. Because the Cistercians desired to revert back to the original intent of St. Benedict that a monastery should be self-sustaining, they became the main force of agriculture throughout Europe for the advancements of farming.

Throughout the centuries of working a garden with the humus of earth, the enormity of sky, and the labor of prayer, the monks of both orders were led into a harmonious and full life—a life of living and eating within the rhythm of nature.

St. Benedict did not develop his monasteries without opposition. He faced resistance from other groups of monks who did not appreciate the challenges he proposed to their somewhat privileged way of life. For this reason, several attempts were made against his life, all of which were miraculously averted.

Being unable to deter St. Benedict with murderous efforts, an attempt was made to draw shame on his brothers as they tended to their gardens. From the book The Golden Legend, the following story is told of a priest named Florentine who had often tried unsuccessfully to murder Benedict. Father Florentine then attempted to “slay spiritually the souls of his disciples.” He took seven maidens and sent them naked into the monastery garden to dance and sing “to move the monks to temptation”

St. Benedict knew that his monks were only mortal men and, fearing for their souls, immediately led them away from the monastery. When Florentine saw Benedict and his monks fleeing in great haste, he ecstatically joined the dancing maidens, rejoicing in his success. The celebration was short lived however, for very suddenly, and to the horror of the young women, the tower’s upper chamber collapsed upon the corrupt priest and sent him into eternity.

(Excerpt from A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, Ave Maria Press, 2015, p.143-144)

Image, CCO Creative Common