Benedict of Nursia 480 - 547 (?)
Saint Benedict of Nursia 480-547


Benedict, the Benedictine Rule, and its Order

Image Above

Saint Benedict of Nursia, detail of the fresco Crucifixion with Saints by Fra Angelico, aka Beato Angelico, aka Guido di Pietro, aka Giovanni da Fiesole, take your pick.

The fresco was created in 1441 / 1442 and you are invited to examine it yourself at the National Museum of San Marco, formerly the convent of San Marco, in Florence, Italy.

Here is the entire fresco. This mural covers some impressive 18 by 31 feet or 550 by 950 centimeters, hence the figures are life-size.

Crucifixion With Saints - Fra Angelico
Crucifixion With Saints by Fra Angelico
Museo Nazionale di San Marco, Firenze
Click image to enlarge

And who exactly is in the crowd?

A cheerful blend of holy people. Some never met as they were born into different centuries. Here is the list:

The Who's Who of the Crucifixion

The three men on the crosses you know already — good thug to our left, Christ center, bad thug to our right. Below them:

The group 1 to 4 to the left are local saints and protectors of Florence and of the Medicis, which was the family that not only ruled Florence but also paid the bills for renovations and wall-paintings at the San Marco convent. In detail we see:

1 — Saint Damian and 2 Saint Cosmas.

Christian martyrs Cosmas and Damian, the patron saints of physicians, might or might not have been twins. In any event, and more importantly in this context, Cosmas was also the patron saint of Cosimo de Medici, aka Cosimo the Elder. Damian is turning away in grief.

It is rumored that this Saint Cosimo looks a little bit like the painter's friend Nanni d'Antonio di Banco, the sculptor.

3 Saint Lawrence.

Christian martyr and patron saint of Lawrence Medici, aka Lorenzo the Elder, Cosimo's younger brother. Saint Lawrence is easily to identify because he travels with his gridiron on which he is said to have been roasted to death.

4 Saint Mark.

Patron saint of the local convent of San Marco and evangelist. Appropriately, Mark points to the open Gospel that he is holding and in which he had written about Jesus' life and death.

The group closest to Jesus on the cross is the group 5 to 9, the two Johns and the three Maries:

5 Saint John the Baptist.

Christ's forerunner, precursor, and herald. You get the idea. John the Baptist prepared the world for Christ's arrival. He therefore seems a little bit detached from the active mourning that takes place right next to him.

6 Mary Salome

7 Mary, Jesus' mother, with spread arms that indicate shier exhaustion, is assisted by her friends left and right. Mary Magdalene is kneeling in front of her for general support because the lady is fainting.

8 Little John

The young apostle John, the "disciple whom Jesus loved," joining the mourning women.

9 Mary Magdalene


What's with the skull at the bottom of the cross?

Sometimes also called the skull of Adam, it reminds of death as the consequence of sin, of which, on this day, Jesus became both — victim and conqueror.


Group 10 to 20 to the right portrays a party of founding saints of religious orders. Starting with the ones kneeling, we see:

10 Saint Dominic.

Dominic, who was Domingo de Guzman because he was Spanish, was the founder of the Dominicans.

11 Saint Jerome.

Aka Eusebius Hieronymus, who has his cardinal's hat thrown to the ground and sports the traditional hermit outfit. Saint Jerome was the founder of the Order of St. Jerome, also called the Hieronymites. Moreover, he was the main translator of the Vulgate, which is a major Latin translation of the Bible.

12 Saint Francis of Assisi.

Holding his head in his hand, we see Saint Francis, the Founder of the Franciscans in the traditional dress of the Franciscan monks. He brought a cross and has the stigmata, which is plural of stigma and a good thing if you are Catholic.

13 Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

A famous Cistercian monk, Bernard was the founder of the monastery at Clairvaux. Some say Bernard holds the rule of the Order, others say it is the Gospel. Whatever it is, Bernard likes his reading because he holds it close to his chest.

14 San Giovanni Gualberto.

Aka Saint John Gualberto, or John Gualbert, the founder of a Benedictine monastery at Vallombrosa, just outside of Florence. We see him sobbing.

15 Saint Peter Martyr.

Aka Peter of Verona, patron saint of inquisitors. While on a stroll, Peter was ambushed by members of the Cathari sect. Peter died on the spot.

See also Assassinations in history.


Standing in the row behind the ones kneeling, are:

16 Saint Ambrosius.

Aka Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan, dressed sharp in official robe and authoritatively accessorized with crozier to remember Ambrose's formal scolding of Roman Emperor Theodosius I the Great, which occurred on more than one occasion. By pointing to the cross and looking at his book, Ambrosius calls attention to what he feels should be accepted as the true authorities in life.

However, some say the 16 represents San Zanobi, or Saint Zenobius, the first bishop of Florence, who also had a very ritzy wardrobe.

17 Saint Augustine.

Aka Saint Augustine of Hippo, founder of the Augustinians. Saint Augustine brought with him pen, notebook, and crozier, to remind us of his substantial literary output that had a powerful impact.

18 Saint Benedict.

Our hero, Saint Benedict, founder of the Benedictines, author of the Rule of St. Benedict, with the rod of penance in his hand. This reminds us that in his Rule, Benedict had arranged for institutionalized scourging in case of an unrepentant offender. Voluntary flagellation optional.

"Saint Benedict is in deep meditation; but I know not whether the Passion of the Lord or the revival of monastic discipline in the West has most of his thoughts." Marchese quote.

19 Saint Romuald of Ravenna.

Founder of the Camaldolese and resting on his cane due to advanced age.

20 Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Major Dominican theologian and philosopher.


The ensemble is surrounded by ten people and a bird, each one holding up a slogan in Latin. That is one way of looking at it.

Another one is:

Start examining the framing semicircle with figure A and its Latin text and then compare it with the figure directly opposite to it, figure K and its Latin text.

A marks the beginning of Christ's suffering and K marks the end of Christ's suffering. Between A and K we find eight prophets who each contributes a detail of Christ's life.

A Dionysius the Areopagite, Bible character and early disciple who was recruited by Paul at Athens.

"Deus naturae patitur" - "The God of Nature now suffers"

Dionysius is mentioned in the Bible at Acts chapter 17, verse 34. His quote is not. However, Church folklore sees him at Heliopolis in Egypt at the time of Jesus' death, where he witnessed the supernatural solar eclipse and commented:

"Aut Deus naturae patitur, aut mundi machina dissolvitur." - "Either the God of nature is suffering, or the fabric of the world is breaking up."

B Daniel, prophet from the Bible book of Daniel.

"Post hedomadas VII et LXII occidet Chst" - "After seven and sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off" - Bible quote from Daniel chapter 9, verse 25 and 26.

C Zechariah, prophet from the Bible book of Zechariah.

"His plagatus sum" - "I was wounded" - Bible quote from Zechariah chapter 13, verse 6.

D Jacob, aka Israel, Abraham's grandson.

"Ad predan fili mi ascendisti. Requiescens accubuisti ut leo" - "From the prey, my son, you will go up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion" - Bible quote from Genesis chapter 49, verse 9.

E David, king of Jerusalem and hip harp player.

"In siti mea potaverunt me aceto" - "In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink" - Bible quote from Psalms chapter 69, verse 21.

F The Pelican.

"Similis factus sum pelicano solitudinis" - "I am like a pelican of the wilderness" - Bible quote from Psalms chapter 102, verse 6.

Centered right above Christ is the pelican, who, according to pre-Christian legend and completely untrue to pelican tradition, injures himself in order to feed his blood to his young ones in times of food crisis and to thus ensure their survival. The parallel to Christ's self-sacrifice is clear.

More on the pelican?

Of course.

Anybody fond of symbolism loved this myth of the pelican, and Louisiana's Governor William Wright Heard was no exception. In 1902, he made sure the State's seal would depict the following:

"A Pelican, with its head turned to the left, in nest with three young; the Pelican, following the tradition in act of tearing its breast to feed its young; around the edge of the seal to be inscribed State of Louisiana. Over head of the Pelican to be inscribed Union, Justice, and under the Pelican to be inscribed Confidence."

And here is the good piece:

Louisiana's State Bird - The Pelican
Louisiana's State Bird - The Pelican


Back to Fra Angelico's wall painting, and continuing clockwise after feathers we see:

G Isaiah, prophet from the Bible book of Isaiah.

"Vere languores nostros, idem tulit et dolores nostros" - "Surely our griefs he bore, and our sorrows he carried" - Bible quote from Isaiah chapter 53, verse 4.

H Jeremiah, prophet from the Bible book of Jeremiah.

"O Vos omnes qui transitis per viam attendite et videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus" - "All you who pass by, look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow." - Bible quote from Lamentations chapter 1, verse 12.

I Ezekiel, priest and prophet from the Bible book of Ezekiel

"Exaltavi lignum humile" - "I bare it upon my shoulder" - Bible quote from Ezekiel chapter 12, verse 7.

J Job, a god-fearing fellow singled out for target practice by Satan the Devil himself, from the Bible book of Job.

"Quis det de carnibus eius ut saturemur" - "Who will give us of his flesh that we may be filled" - Bible quote from Job chapter 31, verse 31.

K Erythraean Sibyl

"Morte morietur, tribus diebus somno subscepto et tune ab inferis regressus ad lucem veniet primus" - "Dying he shall die, and sleeping three days, then shall he be the first returned from hell to see the light."

Not a Bible character per se, but a sibyl, which is a prophetess, from Erythrae nonetheless. Erythrae, by the way, is a part of today's Turkey. Here is the map:

Map Location of Erythrae
Click to enlarge



Finally, we arrive at the bottom row of Angelico's painting where we find 17 more faces:

At the center and with what seems to be two gigantic shoelaces in his hands, Saint Dominic once again because he already sat for the photo but also because the entire row is occupied by prominent members of his, the Dominican, Order.

Experts tell us that shoelaces hadn't been invented, and describe Dominic's props as branches of a tree that join medallions, to which we eagerly reply, Who is portrayed?

From left to right we see:

1 - Far left: Buonianus, or Buoninsegna, or Boninsegno, saint and martyr of Florence.

2 - Remigius of Florence, aka Beato Remigio.

3 - Nicola Paglia da Giovinazzo, aka Beato Niccolo, Provinciales Portugalesis.

4 - Jordanus of Germany, aka Jordan of Saxon, aka Giordano, second general of the Order and a bishop.

5 - Saint Antonin, or Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence. There used to be another person here, but Antonin was painted over whoever it was.

6 - Cardinal Paul of Florence, aka Beato Paolo, Patriarcha Gradensis.

7 - Cardinal Hugo of Florence, aka Beato Ugone, who gave the eulogy at St. Dominic's funeral and was the first cardinal of the Dominican Order.

8 - Pope Innocent V, of French origin and the first Dominican pope.

9 - Center: St. Dominic.

10 - Pope Benedict XI of Treviso, was pope for only one year and might or might not have been poisoned.

11 - Cardinal Giovanni Dominici of Florence, also called Giandominico.

12 - Pietro della Pallude of France, also spelled Pietro da Palude, Patriarch of Jerusalem.

13 - Albertus Magnus, aka Albert the Great, of German origin.

14 - Saint Raimond of Catalonia, aka Beato Raimondo, third general of the Order.

15 - Chiaro da Sesto of Florence, aka Beato Chiaro, Provincialis Romanus.

16 - Saint Vincent Ferrer of Valencia, aka San Vincenzio di Valenza.

17 - Far right: Bernard, aka Beato Bernardo of Florence.




This is the circle with which our monk Benedict is generally associated.

Officially called Saint Benedict of Nursia, he was founder of the Benedictine monastery in Monte Cassino, which you can visit today.

Abbey of Montecassino
Abbey of Montecassino

And here is the official website of the Abby of Montecassino.


Benedict wrote his Regula Monachorum, also called the Benedictine Rule, on which the Order of Saint Benedict is based, the house rules if you will.

On this map you can check the location of Nursia and Monte Cassino.

Map of the Germanic Kingdoms and the East Roman Empire in 526
Click map to enlarge

And here is the ecclesiastical map of the British Isles and Western Europe in the Middle Ages, just in case you were wondering:

Ecclesiastical Map of the British Isles in the Middle Ages
5th-13th Century British Isles Ecclesiastical
Click on map to enlarge

Ecclesiastical Map of Western Europe in the Middle Ages. Inset: Vicinity of Naples.
Western Europe Ecclesiastical 5th-13th Century
Click on map to enlarge





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