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Saint Benedict the Moor

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Saint Benedict the Moor

St. Benedict the Moor, O.F.M.
Religious and confessor
Born 1526
San Fratello, Messina, Sicily, Crown of Aragon
Died April 4, 1589(1589-04-04)
Palermo, Sicily, Crown of Aragon
Honored in Roman Catholic Church
(Sicily and the Franciscan Order),
Lutheran Church
Beatified 1734 by Pope Benedict XIV
Canonized 1807 by Pope Pius VII
Major shrine Church of Santa Maria di Gesù, Palermo, Italy
Feast April 4 (April 3 in the Franciscan Order)
Patronage African missions; African American; black missions; black people; Palermo; San Fratello; Sicily

Benedict the Moor, O.F.M., (Italian: San Benedetto il Moro, 1526 – April 4, 1589) was an Italian Franciscan friar in Sicily who is venerated as a saint in the Catholic[1] and Lutheran churches.[2] Born of Moorish (or African) slaves, he was freed at birth and became known for his charity. As a young man he joined a Franciscan-affiliated hermit group, whose leader he became. In 1564 he was sent to the Franciscan friary in Palermo, where he continued good works.


Benedict was born to Cristoforo and Diana Manasseri, Africans who were taken as slaves in the early 16th century to San Fratello (also known as San Fradello or San Philadelphio), a small town near Messina, Sicily. They were given Italian names and later were converted to Christianity. The Italian "il Moro" for "the dark skinned" has been interpreted as referring to Moorish heritage. Because of his appearance, Benedict was also called Æthiops or Niger (both referring to black skin color and not the modern-day countries.)

Benedict's parents were granted freedom for their son before his birth because of their "loyal service". Like most peasants, Benedict did not attend any school and was illiterate. During his childhood and youth, he worked alongside his family for meager wages. He was quick to give what he had earned to those more needy and to the sick. When he was 21 years old, he was publicly insulted for his color. His patient and dignified bearing at this time was noted by the leader of an independent group of hermits on nearby Monte Pellegrino, who followed the Rule for hermit life written by St. Francis of Assisi. Benedict was quickly invited to join that community, and shortly thereafter he gave up all his earthly possessions and joined them. He himself eventually became leader of that group.

In 1564 Pope Pius IV disbanded independent communities of hermits, ordering them to attach themselves to an established religious Order, in this case, the Order of Friars Minor. Once a friar of the Order, Benedict was assigned to Palermo to the Franciscan Friary of St. Mary of Jesus. He started at the friary as a cook, but, showing the degree of his advancement in the spiritual life, he was soon appointed as the Master of novices, and later as Guardian of the community, although he was a lay brother rather than a priest, and was illiterate.

Benedict accepted the promotion, and successfully helped the order adopt a stricter version of the Franciscan Rule of life. He was widely respected for his deep, intuitive understanding of theology and Scripture, and was often sought for counseling. He also had a reputation as a healer of the sick. Combined, these characteristics continued to draw many visitors to him, even after he returned to kitchen duty in his later years.

Benedict died at the age of 65 and, it is claimed, on the very day and hour which he had predicted. At the entrance of his cell in the Franciscan friary of St. Mary of Jesus, there is a plaque with the inscription: "This is the cell where Saint Benedict lived", and the dates of his birth and death - 1524 and 1589. Those dates should be considered as the correct dates of his birth and death. Other sources suggest he was born in 1526. For instance, in a New York Times review of the 2012 exhibit, Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe, at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland, his birth date is given as 1526.[3]

Upon his death, King Philip III of Spain ordered the construction of a magnfient tomb to house his remains in the friary church.[4]


Benedict was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1743 and canonized in 1807 by Pope Pius VII. It is claimed that his body was found incorrupt upon exhumation a few years later.

Benedict is remembered for his patience and understanding when confronted with racial prejudice and taunts. He was declared a Capuchin friars of Milwaukee's St. Benedict the Moor Parish serve a meal for the homeless six days a week as part of a ministry to reach out to transient, disfranchised and isolated people.

The latest church in the United States to be placed under his patronage is the Parish of St. James-Resurrection-St. Benedict the Moor, established in 2003 under the leadership of Father Francis Tandoh, C.S.Sp., a priest from Ghana. The parish maintains a ministry to natives of that country, as well as parishioners from two previous parishes merged to form it.[9]

St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church, established in 1874 and located in the Historical District of Savannah, Georgia, is the oldest Catholic Church for African Americans in Georgia and one of the oldest in the Southeastern United States. Churches named for him have been founded in [10]Columbus, Georgia and St. Augustine, Florida.

Veneration of Benedict is spread throughout Latin America, from Mexico through Argentina. In Venezuela, particularly, his devotion is spread through the country's various states, and he is celebrated on many different dates, according to the local traditions.

See also

Saints portal


Further reading

  • Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0-14-051312-4.
  • St Benedict the Moor Church in Dayton, Ohio. On February 2, 2003, the parish community of St. James/Resurrection broke ground on eleven acres of property at the corner of Liscum Drive and McLin Parkway (State Route 35). St. Benedict the Moor celebrated on May 14, 2005, the opening of their church and the “homecoming” of a faith journey that started many years ago .

External links

  • Catholic Forum: St Benedict Biography
  • Anja's Art: St. Benedict Wood Sculpture

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  • Find a Grave
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