For the feast of Benedict I wanted to share this excerpt from an article in London's Tablet magazine of February 26. A lovely Benedictine tradition that I did not know of at all. Hope you enjoy it,too.
"Flame of peace burns brighter"
Every year for nearly 50 years, a torch has been lit somewhere in the Catholic world and carried to Monte Cassino Abbey to mark the death of St Benedict. This year, uniquely, its journey to Italy begins in London’s Westminster Abbey – a non-Catholic church but very much a Benedictine one.
At a special service in Westminster Abbey on Wednesday, March 2, the Torch of St Benedict will be lit in the presence of a representative congregation. The torch will then begin a journey to the Abbey of Monte Cassino, St. Benedict’s own monastery and the place of his burial, in time for the anniversary of his death on March 21.
This will be the first time that the torch has been lit in a non-Roman Catholic Church. We feel a great sense of delight and privilege that Westminster Abbey has been chosen for this honour. It is presumably no random decision. Not only did Pope Benedict XVI, in company with the Archbishop of Canterbury, address an exuberant ecumenical service at the abbey during his visit to Britain last September, but the church’s long history includes at least 600 years as a monastery committed to the Rule of St Benedict, from St. Dunstan’s foundation or refoundation of the abbey in 960 until its dissolution under Henry VIII in 1540, and then again from its refoundation under Mary I in 1556 until its fresh dissolution at the beginning of Elizabeth I’s reign. In 1560, Elizabeth reerected the abbey as the Collegiate Church of St Peter in Westminster, its proper title and character to this day.
Both individually and as a community, daily life at Westminster Abbey is infused with the spirit of the Rule of St Benedict. As a Benedictine community, we seek to be hospitable and to welcome visitors. We are also committed to the work of education. Part of the abbey’s mission reflects the Rule’s understanding of the monastery as a “school of the Lord’s service.”
The ceremony of lighting the torch began when Pope Paul VI visited Monte Cassino in 1964 and named St Benedict as Patron of Europe. The main purpose of Pope Paul’s visit was to reconsecrate the abbey and its church following its reconstruction after the Second World War. In 1944, there were four battles, costing up to a quarter of a million lives, between the German army, occupying Monte Cassino, and the Allies, including the British Eighth Army and the US Seventh Army, who were making their way northwards through Italy following the invasion of Sicily.
Before the second of these battles, the Allies bombarded the 1,400-year-old monastery from the air with 1,400 tons of bombs. Many of the treasures had been removed for safe keeping but the buildings themselves were laid waste and much of the artwork was destroyed. The Italian Government after the war committed itself to reconstructing the monastery as it had been. Much of the work was achieved in the first 12 years after the war, but some decorative work was not added until the 1970s.
Since 1980, the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of St Benedict, the torch has been lit in many different parts of Europe and traced its route back to Mont Cassino. It has been taken further afield to Jerusalem and New York, emphasising the Benedictine message of peace, particularly important following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the tenth anniversary of which will incidentally be observed with a special service in the abbey.
An hour before the service on Wednesday, representatives of those who fought and suffered at the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944 will lay wreaths at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior in the abbey in commemoration of those of several countries who lost their lives in the conflict. The occasion will be one of remembrance but it will also symbolise and
strengthen the peace we have in Europe and point the way, hopefully, towards peace wherever there is conflict.
The Very Revd. Dr. John Hall, Dean of Westminster.