When I first acquired my Benedictine breviary almost two years ago, I opened the second volume and noticed something really odd. My name day (St. Alexius) falls on July 17th, but the breviary said nothing about it. Rather, it mentioned that it was ferial day during the Octave. It turned out that St. Benedict had a feast day on July 11th.
I decided that I would research this second feast day since the only one I knew about was on March 21. And here are some interesting things that I found out:
July 11th is the solemn commemoration of St. Benedict within the Benedictine Order. On the Tridentine Calendar (in use until 1969), this was a first class feast day in all Benedictine abbeys and had its own Octave. The reason why this does occur on March 21 is that this feast day frequently falls during Lent and solemn commemoration is not possible if the feast day falls during Holy Week.
The historical reason for why St. Benedict’s summer feast day falls on July 11 is that on this day, his relics were translated from Monte Cassino to St. Benoit-sur-Loire in France. There are many stories about why the relics ended up there. Some believe that they were stolen from Monte Cassino. Others maintain that they were taken there during a period of warfare in Italy. Even today, scholars are debating whether St. Benedict’s relics were removed at all and where they reside. (I can think of similar claims about the body of St. George. I will talk about this in another post.)
Regardless of the facts, there have always been two feasts in honor of St. Benedict. March 21 commemorates his repose in the Lord and his birthday in heaven, while July 11 honors him as the father and patriarch of monks.
An interesting side note is that the second feast day of St. Benedict would not have ended up in the breviary had it not been for St. Robert Bellarmine. According to historians, Bellarmine was editing the Roman Breviary in accordance with the decrees of the Council of Trent. Of course, this meant editing the Roman Calendar. A debate arose between the Italian and French Benedictines about which feast day of St. Benedict to include. Bellarmine settled the problem by writing down both March 21 and July 11 on the calendar as commemorations of St. Benedict. So it has remained to this day.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Benedict, pray for us!