People will often notice that ravens are found in many of the monastic paintings, statues, stained glass, literature, the Benedictine medal, and even our own Subiaco coat of arms (see the photos as examples). In fact, Benedictine College in Atchison has as their mascot the raven. This is their fight song:
Ravens are flying high in the sky,
Cheer them on their way.
Hey! Hey! Hey!
Shout out the black and red battle cry,
Sons of grand ole' St. Benedict,
Raise your banners high.
Soaring onto glory.
Faithful to the story,
Ravens always fly on high!
So, what's the deal with Benedictine monks and ravens? One visitor said, "Isn't that kinda spooky that ravens congregate around monks?" Well, for us monks its kinda normal and quite comforting. Here's why:
First, it is important to realize that our Holy Father St. Benedict had a raven as his companion. We know of this from one of the stories from St. Gregory relating this about Benedict and how the raven saved him from near death at one point. St. Meinrad, who died on January 21, 863 AD, was later avenged for his murder by ravens who not only pointed out the dastardly villains of the crime, but also enacted a little "crowd vengence" as well. Here is the final scene as described after St. Meinrad's murder:
Coming back to the little body of the dead man, they found the unlit candle that they had put there burning brightly. And all at once, such a great fear entered them that they did not dare to touch any of the things related to the service of the altar. So taking up the clothing and some bed coverings, they retraced their steps in haste back to where they had come from.
Now there were some ravens who used to come regularly to the servant of God when he was alive and take what was offered from his hands. And as if wishing to avenge the dead man, the ravens followed the thieves while they were fleeing from the hermitage, and filled the woods with loud cawing. And flying as close to the murderers' heads as they could, they published the crime that had been committed.
Not long afterwards, the evil men were arrested, and the crime which they had committed in secret was revealed, since God did not wish to postpone the punishment of the sin that they had merited by killing the servant of God. For indeed, after the judges and the Christian people under count Adalbert condemned them to it, they were burned alive.
Now the candle they had put at the head of the man of God and which was lighted by heaven burned down to the straw they had put over his body. The fire burnt part of the straw and went all the way up to the limbs of the dead man. But when it touched his limbs, just as it was divinely lit, so also it was extinguished at the command of God. From this, however, the news of his death spread abroad.
When it became known, the venerable abbot Walter and the brothers living under him took the body of the man of God from his hermitage, and transferring it to the monastery of Reichenau, buried it there with due honor. So suffered the holy martyr, on the 21st day of January in the eight hundredth and sixty-third year from the incarnation of the Lord, while Louis reigned as king over the east Franks, in the 28th year of his reign.
It was over this spot that the Abbey of Maria Ensiedeln (our grandmother abbey) was founded. Hence, we have the ravens in our coat of arms to remind us of the linkage.
So, yes, you will see ravens about monks and our monasteries. For us, though, it is not creepy but quite consoling. It is just part of our knowledge that God, St. Benedict, and St. Meinrad, continue to watch over us Benedictine monks of Subiaco.