St Benedict and the Poisoned Wine,
Painting by Niccolò di Pietro (documented between 1394 and 1427),
Painted circa 1415-1420,
Tempera on wood
© Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Feast of Saint Benedict
Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘What about us?’ he said. ‘We have left everything and followed you. What are we to have, then?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you solemnly, when all is made new and the Son of Man sits on his throne of glory, you will yourselves sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life.’
Reflection on the painting
Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Benedict. As I went to a Benedictine school in Belgium, the Benedictines will always hold a special place in my heart. It is probably there at school, through seeing the quiet witnessing of the monks, that the seed of discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood was sown.
Saint Benedict was born circa 480 AD to a wealthy family in the region of Umbria in Italy. After a young life of privilege and decadence, he met a monk called Romanus of Subiaco (died ca. 550 AD), who convinced him to change his ways and to live alone in a cave near Subiaco for three years, in order to demonstrate his commitment to his Christian faith. Romanus checked in on the young Benedict on a regular basis and when the three years were served, Benedict was given the call to become abbot for fifteen monks who already lived in a monastery nearby. Benedict assumed control of the monastery and insisted that his monks follow the strictest manner of worship and mission. Some of the monks became seriously upset with all his demands and out of the disillusionment came a conspiracy to kill Benedict by poisoning his wine. As he blessed his wine cup, it shattered, saving his life. Our painting depicts the moment when Saint Benedict blesses the cup which is brought to him by a lavishly dressed layman.
Just as in today’s Gospel reading, St Benedict left everything to follow Christ. No half-way compromises; a full commitment to his mission and leave his comfortable life behind.
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