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E04450: Gregory the Great, in his Dialogues (2) composes a Life of *Benedict (monk of Nursia, ob. 547, S01727) which presents him as an ideal monk and miracle-worker in central Italy. Written in Latin in Rome, c. 593.

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posted on 2017-12-11, 00:00 authored by frances, dlambert
Gregory the Great, Dialogues 2

General description and overall summary:

Prologue: Benedict was born in Nursia to distinguished parents and was sent to Rome for a liberal education. Through this, he longed to leave the world (Prologue).

The account of Benedict’s life which follows can be split into four phases. Firstly, his ascetic life after his conversion which he spent initially in a lodging near a church of Peter the Apostle in Affile, near Rome, and later in a cave at Subiaco, near Rome (chs. 1–2; see $E04454). During this phase of his life, Benedict’s reputation spread and individuals travelled to show their devotion (see $E04454). Secondly, his time in various monastic communities including his own foundations (chs. 3–8). Thirdly, his time at his own foundation of Monte Cassino (chs. 8–37). Finally, the Life considers his death and one posthumous miracle (chs. 37-38).

Gregory outlines Benedict’s ascetic virtues in chs. 2–3. In ch. 36, he praises Benedict’s wisdom and refers to the rule for monks which he wrote (the Rule of St Benedict). Benedict’s foundations are also praised in the Life: Gregory describes (ch. 8) how Benedict founded the monastery of Monte Cassino along with chapels dedicated to *John (the Baptist, S00020) and *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050). His body was ultimately laid to rest in the chapel of St John (ch. 37; see $E04456). He also founds several other monasteries in this region of Italy, including in Terracina (chs. 3, 22).

Yet it is Benedict’s miracles which are the subject of the majority of the Life. Many of these miracles are likened to the acts of biblical figures (see $E04457). Most of the miracles concern monks under his care, but some are described in relation to local peasants (ch. 32), lay-people (chs. 27, 31), other clergy (ch. 16), bishops (ch. 15) or kings (ch. 14).

Benedict's miracles fall into several different groups.

He is aware of hidden knowledge. He shows knowledge of threats to his life from jealous churchmen (chs. 3, 8). On one of these occasions, a raven removes the loaf a priest attempted to use to poison him (ch. 8). Additionally, he shows knowledge of the hidden sins of others (chs. 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20) and foretells future events (chs. 15, 17, 37).

Benedict also directly challenges the Devil through his miracles. Gregory describes how Benedict makes the Devil’s illusions apparent to sinning monks (chs. 4, 10, 25) and drives out evil spirits (chs. 9, 16 on which see $E04458, 30).

On several occasions, Benedict provides material support for his followers: he provides food for the monastery (chs. 21, 27–28); money for an indebted layman (ch. 27); and saves the blade of a brush hook from being lost in a lake (ch. 6). Additionally, he provides bodily aid to the faithful. He saves a monk from drowning in the same lake the brush hook was lost in (ch. 7); he cures the sick (chs. 26, 27); he returns the deceased to life (chs. 11, 32); and he frees a prisoner (ch. 31).

Benedict also appears in a dream to monks who are building a monastery under his direction (ch. 22). He sees the souls of holy individuals, including his sister *Scholastica (nun, ob. 543, S01728), ascend to heaven (chs. 34, 35). And he intervenes to ensure that the bodies of those who died in sin remained buried (chs. 23, 24).

One posthumous miracle is described. A woman, who had lost her mind, was cured after spending a night in the cave at Subiaco, near Rome (ch. 38).

Gregory includes an account of a miracle effected by Benedict’s sister, the nun Scholastica (see $E04455).

Summary: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Benedict (of Nursia, monk, ob. 547) : S01727

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory the Great (pope)

Cult activities - Places

Place associated with saint's life

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures Miracle with animals and plants Exorcism Healing diseases and disabilities Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Power over life and death Finding of lost objects, animals, etc. Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Children Foreigners (including Barbarians) Relatives of the saint Monarchs and their family Ecclesiastics - bishops Peasants Other lay individuals/ people Animals Demons


Gregory the Great (Pope, 590-604) wrote his Dialogues on the Lives and Miracles of the Italian Fathers (Dialogi de vita et miraculis patrum italicorum) in Rome around 593. Organised into four books, the first three are a collection of lives and miracles of various Italian saints. The longest is the Life of Benedict of Nursia, which comprises the entirety of book 2. The final book consists of an essay on the immortality of souls after death. As a whole, the work documents and explains the presence of the miraculous in the contemporary world and the ability of saints to effect miracles both before and after death. The attribution of the Dialogues to Gregory has been disputed, most recently by Francis Clark who argued that the work was created in the 680s in Rome. Others - such as Adalbert de Vogüé, Paul Meyvaert and Matthew dal Santo - have, however, strongly argued for Gregory's authorship and it is broadly accepted that Gregory was responsible for the Dialogues. For a discussion of Gregory's devotion in writing the Dialogues, see E04383, and for the role of the Dialogues as a tract justifying the nature of miracles and theorising on the immortality of souls, see E04506. Gregory's principal aim in collecting the miracle stories of the holy men and a very few women of sixth-century Italy was to show the presence of God's power on earth as manifested through them, rather than to encourage the cult of these individuals. Indeed, though posthumous miracles at the graves of a few individuals are recorded (and also a few miracles aided by contact relics of dead saints), there is very little emphasis in the Dialogues on posthumous cult; some of the miraculous events that Gregory records (e.g. E04429) are not even attributed to named individuals. Although very few of the holy persons in the Dialogues are 'proper' saints, with long-term cult, we have included them all in our database, for the sake of completeness and as an illustration of the impossibility of dividing 'proper' saints from more 'ordinary' holy individuals.


Edition: Vogüé, A. de, Grégoire le Grand, Dialogues, Sources chrétiennes 260 (Paris: Cerf, 1979). Translation: Zimmerman, O.J., Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great, Fathers of the Church 39 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1959). Further Reading: Clark, F.,The 'Gregorian' Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism (Leiden: Brill, 2003). Dal Santo, M., "The Shadow of A Doubt? A Note on the Dialogues and Registrum Epistolarum of Pope Gregory the Great (590–604)," Journal of Ecclesiatical History, 61.1, (2010), 3-17. Meyvaert, P., "The Enigma of Gregory the Great’s Dialogues: A Reply to Francis Clark," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 39 (1988), 335–81. Vogüé, A. de, "Grégoire le Grand et ses Dialogues d’après deux ouvrages récents," Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique 83 (1988), 281–348.

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