The Garden Guide

Benedict, Saint,

Born - Died : 480 - 547

St Benedict was born at Nursia in Umbria. Rome was sacked by the Goths during his lifetime. He was shocked by the licentiousness of Rome and retired to the hills. Later he established a monastery at Monte Casino on a hill between Rome and Naples. Disciples followed him and a community developed. Benedict wrote a system of monastic regulations known as the Benedictine Rule. It provides a comprehensive set of directions which give the outsider an excellent insight into the life of a monastery. The working day was was divided into three portions: for prayer, for reading and for manual work (eg craft, agriculture or gardening). By the time of Charlemagne (9th century) the Rule had a dominant position in monastic life. Chapter 48 or the Rule reminded monks that 'idleness is an enemy of the soul. Because this is so the bretheren ought to be occupied at specified times in manual labour, and at other fixed hours in holy reading'. Chapter 57 stated that 'If any {craftsman} be puffed up by his skill in his craft, and think the monastery indebted to him for it, such a one shall be shifted from his handicraft, and not attempt it again till such time as, having learnt a low opinion of himself, the abbot shall bid him resume'. Gardening was a valued type of labour because of the closeness with God's work. Cultivation of choice fruits became a favoured pastime. Flowers were celebrated for their beauty and their symbolism, like religious icons. The Rule makes the following specific references to gardens: Chapter 7 "The twelfth degree of humility is, when a monk is not only humble of heart, but always letteth it appear also in his whole exterior to all that see him; namely, at the Work of God, in the garden, on a journey, in the field, or wherever he may be, sitting, walking, or standing, let him always have his head bowed down, his eyes fixed on the ground, ever holding himself guilty of his sins, thinking that he is already standing before the dread judgment seat of God, and always saying to himself in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said, with his eyes fixed on the ground: "Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up mine eyes to heaven" (Lk 18:13); and again with the Prophet: "I am bowed down and humbled exceedingly" (Ps 37[38]:7-9; Ps 118[119]:107)." Chapter 46 "If anyone whilst engaged in any work, in the kitchen, in the cellar, in serving, in the bakery, in the garden, at any art or work in any place whatever, committeth a fault, or breaketh or loseth anything, or transgresseth in any way whatever, and he doth not forthwith come before the Abbot and the community, and of his own accord confess his offense and make satisfaction, and it becometh known through another, let him be subjected to a greater correction." Chapter 66 "If it can be done, the monastery should be so situated that all the necessaries, such as water, the mill, the garden, are enclosed, and the various arts may be plied inside of the monastery, so that there may be no need for the monks to go about outside, because it is not good for their souls. But we desire that this Rule be read quite often in the community, that none of the brethren may excuse himself of ignorance."