Statue of St Benedict
Archbishop Buti Tlhagale officially unveiled and blessed a statue of our patron saint, St Benedict, on 13 July 2012.
The statue enjoys pride of place in front of the Preparatory School building, and gazes down the concourse across the front of the College buildings towards the school hall.
Many of the traditional depictions of St Benedict show him as a “grumpy old man”. Our statue – commissioned from artist, Heidi Hadaway - depicts St Benedict as a more appealing, younger but deeply thoughtful and wise man. The statue incorporates five symbolic elements which relate to the life and work of our patron saint – many of which can also be seen in the St Benedict’s Medal, one of the sacramentals of the Catholic Church.
A number of these elements are derived from the only available history of St Benedict which is found in the second volume of Pope Gregory I's four-book Dialogues, thought to have been written in 593.
What are these five symbolic elements?
- The simple, wooden crucifix that hangs around the statue’s neck is a symbol of the Catholic Church and is the ultimate representation of Christ as Redeemer and Saviour. It is the symbol of Benedict’s devotion and serves as a constant reminder of Christ's sacrifice and love for all men.
- The staff which the statue holds in its right hand simultaneously symbolises St Benedict’s Episcopal jurisdiction and authority and his watchfulness over his flock. It is also an allusion to the palmer's staff - a symbol of the traveller - borne in reference to the early pilgrimages to Jerusalem. The statue also shows St Benedict with his right foot ascending a rock and implies the physical conquest of the mountains of Subiaco, with all the courage, self-transcendence and mental lucidity required as the physical journey becomes an inseparable and complementary part of spiritual awakening.
- A satchel containing manuscripts hanging on the right hand side of the statue symbolises “The Rule of St Benedict”. The Roman Empire had crumbled by Benedict's time, and in the midst of collapsing institutions, moral decay, and social chaos, Benedict established religious communities based on gentle discipline, strict morality, and a well-ordered routine. Drawing on earlier monastic writings, Benedict crafted a rule that lays down the principles of Christian community life. St Benedict's Rule is one of a handful of documents that make up the foundation of Western civilization and Christian spirituality. The fact that it's still followed by monks and nuns 1,500 years after its composition as well as the fact that you can get online and purchase a copy of St Benedict’s Rule for Business Success shows its abiding relevance.
- The raven – in full glorious flight - is a reference is to the story outlined by Pope Gregory in the second book of the Dialogues. Pope Gregory tells how legend has it that a raven would bring Benedict food during his time as a hermit in the mountains near Subiaco, Italy. It is this legend that provides us with the name of our Sports Centre, our Preparatory School Sports facilities in Linbro Park and our Old Boys Rowing Club. Carolinne White’s translation of Pope Gregory's narrative reads as follows:
"At mealtimes a raven used to come out of the nearby wood and take bread from Benedict’s hand. This time, when it came as usual, the man of God threw down in front of the raven the bread that the priest had handed him [it had been poisoned], saying, ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, take this bread and drop it somewhere where no one can find it.’ 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."
- While he was living in the cave near Subiaco, a nearby community of the monks pleaded with St Benedict to become their abbot after their previous abbot had passed away. St Benedict was reluctant to do so since it was clear to him that this particular community of monks did not lead lives in accord with the monastic ideals he himself held. Despite St Benedict's hesitation, they were insistent so eventually he accepted and became the head of their group. Soon afterwards it was clear that Benedict was right in his estimation of the monks for many of them began to resist his gentle guidance. One group went so far as to try and poison St Benedict's wine. It was St Benedict's custom to always say the blessing before eating and upon making the sign of the cross over the cup, it shattered, spilling the poisoned wine. St Benedict, realizing what the situation was simply replied that his monastic ideals and theirs were simply not suited to one another. He then retired to his cave at Subiaco. The shattered cup – lying at the statue’s feet - is the fifth symbolic element in the statue.
The installation of the statue of St Benedict is the culmination of a dream which began many years ago. It is our fervent hope that the statue will make some contribution to the spiritual life of each boy, parent, staff member or visitor who walks past it. May it remind us of the life and work of St Benedict and the example he set of how to live a good, Christian life. It is set aside to the glory of God in the hope that it will be a gateway that daily will draw us closer to God’s grace and help us develop an attitude of prayer, reflection and devotion.