Saint Scholastica, Virgin

Scholastica was born about 480 AD in Nursia, Italy, and was the twin sister of St Benedict. She died near Monte Cassino about 543 AD. Almost everything we know about her comes from the Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great, himself a monk and abbot. She was consecrated to God at a very early age, but probably continued to live in her parents’ home. Some accounts of her story indicate that she preceded Benedict in piety, and that he came to holiness after she did, and under her influence.

When Benedict established his monastery at Monte Cassino, Scholastica founded a convent in nearby Plombariola, about 8 km south of Monte Cassino. The convent is said to have been under the direction of her brother, thus she is regarded as the first Benedictine nun. In fact, we do not know what rule her community followed, although it seems most likely it was the Rule of St Benedict.

Benedict and Scholastica, like many twins, were close but the respective rules of their houses proscribed either entering the other’s monastery (the rules of ‘cloister’ normally forbade people of different sexes from access). However, it is told that once a year she would go to visit her brother in the vicinity of Monte Cassino. They would spend the day praying together, discussing sacred texts and issues of common interest.

There is a delightful story, told by St Gregory, of the very last meeting she and Benedict were destined to have. At the end of the day, they had supper and continued their conversation. When Benedict indicated it was time for him to leave, she protested, and begged him to stay with her for the evening so they could continue their discussions. He refused, insisting that he needed to return to his cell. At that point, Scholastica closed her hands in prayer, and after a moment, a wild storm rose up outside the house where they were staying. “What have you done?” asked Benedict. To which his sister replied:

I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.

But, because of the storm, Benedict was unable to return to his monastery, and they spent the night in discussion.

According to the Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great, three days later, from his monastic cell, Benedict saw his sister’s soul leaving the earth and ascend to heaven in the form of a shining white dove. He placed her body in the grave he had prepared for himself, and arranged for his own to be placed there too after his own death. As Gregory says:

So death did not separate the bodies of these two, whose minds had ever been united in the Lord.

Her relics were, as alleged by the monk Adrevald, to have been transferred on July 11 to a rich silver shrine in Saint Peter’s Church in Le Mans, France. This may also have been when Benedict’s were moved to Fleury.

St Scholastica is usually depicted in art dressed as a nun, holding a crozier and crucifix, with her brother. Sometimes, she may be shown:

– receiving her veil from St Benedict;
– her soul departing her body like a dove;
– with a dove at her feet or bosom; or
– kneeling before St Benedict’s cell.

She is the patroness of Monte Cassino and all Cassinese communities, and she is invoked against storms. She is also the patron saint of convulsive children, and of nuns.

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