Sunday, July 14, 2013


Becky Nielsen, NY

For the past year, I have been feeding a pair of ravens outside the kitchen, off the upper deck.  Watching them has been interesting. I am sure the male knows my voice as he often sits only a few feet away from me watching intently as I drop the food down over the railing.

As Benedictines one of our favorite stories in the life of St. Benedict is the narrative of the "man of God" and the RAVEN, as related by St. Gregory the Great. In the wilderness Benedict fed a raven with  a portion of his bread.  When a jealous and wicked priest tried to kill the saint with poisoned bread, Benedict coached the raven to take the deadly bread to a place where it couldn't harm another.

Simon Krogan

St. Martin's Abbey- Lacy, WA

St. Gregory in his Dialogues writes, "Then the raven, opening its beak wide and spreading its wings, began to run around the bread, cawing, as if to indicate that it wanted to obey but was unable to carry out the order. Again and again the man of God told him to do it, saying, 'Pick it up, pick it up. Do not be afraid. Just drop it where it cannot be found.' After hesitating a long time, the raven took the bread in its beak, picked it up and flew away. Three hours later it came back, after having thrown the bread away, and received its usual ration from the hands of the man of God."

In ancient times- and even to this day- the raven is a symbol of death or evil. In our Northwest Native culture the raven is seen in a more positive light. Raven in these indigenous peoples' mythology is the Creator of the world, but it is also considered a trickster god. For instance, in Tlingit culture, there are two different raven characters which can be identified, although they are not always clearly differentiated. One is the creator raven, responsible for bringing the world into being and who is sometimes considered to be the one who brought light to the darkness. The other side is the childish raven, always selfish, sly, conniving, and hungry.

Another raven story from the Puget Sound region describes Raven as having originally lived in the land of spirits (literally bird land) that existed before the world of humans. One day Raven became so bored with bird land that he flew away, carrying a stone in his beak. When Raven became tired of carrying the stone and dropped it, the stone fell into the ocean and expanded until it formed the firmament on which humans now live.

Raven & the first  man- Bill Reid
My favorite story is of  Raven stealing and releasing the sun, and tempting the first humans out of a clam shell.

David Lange, OSB- St. John's Abbey
In Western Christianity the raven is presented in a positive light, associated with saints. The raven is a symbol for solitude, especially since ravens fed several saints  in the wilderness, namely,  the Desert Fathers, St. Anthony Abbot and St. Paul the Hermit

Ravens also brought food to St. Chelidonia, a Benedictine hermit of the XIIth century,  who lived for more than fifty years in a cave of the Aniene River valley.

The raven’s submission to the will of God, despite what we may see as its disagreeable habits, is an expression of redemption.  The raven symbolizes filial gratitude and affection, wisdom, hope, longevity, death, and fertility.

The 9th century hermit St. Meinrad, who regularly fed ravens, was murdered by thieves. Ravens pursued the murderers into the forest, their loud caws alerting the villagers to come and apprehend the men. (The Benedictine monastery of Einsiedeln in Switzerland, which claims this saint as their founder, uses ravens in its coat of arms).

According to legend, after being martyred (304), ravens protected St. Vincent of Saragossa's body from being devoured by vultures, until his followers could recover the body.

Tim Mispagel- St. Ben. College, Atchinson, KS

When I visited Subiaco (the birth place of our Benedictine heritage) many years ago, ravens were kept in the courtyard. I am not sure if thy are still there.  But the spirit of our founder lives on in these intelligent birds. I like to think of St. Benedict and his twin, St. Scholastica, as birders, since they are so often pictured with their birds. (St. Scholastica with a dove).

(For more information on this bird's family which includes crows and Stellar jays see blogs:  Jan.16, 2013,  Aug. 27, 2012 and  May 29, 2012).

No comments:

Post a Comment