Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Benedict of Anian, Abbot

illustration of Saint Benedict of Anian, Abbot, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberThrough lapse of years the discipline of monastic houses in Gaul had much degenerated from the original stringency of Saint Benedict’s Rule, that was introduced by Saint Maurus. It was Saint Benedict of Anian who was destined by Heaven to again restore it. He was born in Septimania1 of Gothic parents. His father, Aigulf, Count of Languedoc, had done such good service against the Gascons, that King Pepin’s Queen had young Benedict brought up at the palace among the sons of the chief nobles. When old enough, he became the King’s cup-bearer, and subsequently fought with distinction in the wars of Pepin and Charles. Fearing, however, that salvation was difficult to gain amid the bloodshed and rapine of war, he laid down his sword, and, to prepare himself for the monastic state, for three whole years he mortified himself in his own home by watchings and by fasting. Having then entered the Monastery of Sequanus, his food for two years consisted of cold water and dry bread only. Wine he refrained from as if it were poison; he was sparing of sleep, and in the dead of night, even in midwinter, he used to stand, with bare feet, in prayer till the soles of his feet were often frozen to the ground. His humility and austerity excited the scoffs and jeers of his weaker brethren, yet his patient endurance so won the respect of all, that five years later, on the death of the Abbot, Benedict was unanimously elected to succeed him. Being unwilling to make trial of the strict Rule among those averse to reform, he fled secretly from the Monastery to Septimania, and near the little river Anian shut himself up in a cell with one chosen companion, Widmar.

The fame of his sanctity drew numbers to this neighbourhood, and for their shelter he built a Monastery of the rudest materials. The poverty and ascetical life of these Religious excited the charitable to vie with one another in bestowing on them houses, farms, and vineyards. Wealth, as usual, soon attracted robbers. One, who came on foot and was hospitably entertained, took a horse with him when leaving. The thief was caught by the neighbours, and, after being soundly beaten, was handed over to the Abbot for punishment. The Saint, however, called a surgeon, had the wretch’s wounds seen to, and, when he was cured, dismissed him with a gift.

The Felician heresy then raging in Spain had penetrated into Septimania, but was completely driven out of that province by the preaching of Saint Benedict. After this our Saint was distinguished by miracles. A fire broke out in a house next the Lady Chapel, and streams of water failed to extinguish it, till Saint Benedict by his prayers quelled the conflagration; his mere presence checked the spread of the flames, which, caused by sparks from the burning house, threatened to destroy the vineyards and monastic buildings.

Meantime Saint Benedict, thinking it time to reorganise the constitutions of the Order, after having caused the archives of the various Monasteries, especially of Monte Cassino, to be consulted, drew up the Concordia Regularum. Charlemagne and his son Louis nobly seconded our Saint’s efforts by ordering that all the Monasteries throughout the Empire should observe as much of the old Benedictine Rule as Saint Benedict of Anian recommended. When discipline was thus happily restored in monastic houses, Louis wished to have Saint Benedict come to Court in order to benefit by his advice in affairs of state. The Saint consented, because he thought he could thus best help the poor, the suffering, and the injured. He grew old in the performance of these arduous labours, till a dangerous fever compelled him to leave the palace at the age of seventy. When dying, he exhorted his brethren to strict observance of the Rule, and to mortification, assuring them that never, during the forty years he had been a Monk, had he breakfasted or dined without bitter tears at the grace before meals. His death took place A.D. 821. During the last century his relics still reposed in the Monastery of Saint Cornelius or of Jude in the Duchy of Cleves.

– text and illustration taken from Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict by Father Aegedius Ranbeck, O.S.B.