Nino of Georgia vs. Benedict the Moor

We conclude a rough-and-tumble week of saintly contests with Nino of Georgia vs. Benedict the Moor.

Yesterday, Isadora the Simple made Simeon the Holy Fool look foolish 54% to 46% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen. And, don't forget that one of the joys of this Lenten pop-up community may be found in the comment section on each post. You'll find limericks and camaraderie and heartache and joy and more information about the saints of the day. People may not always agree, but comments are always shared in the context of this collective journey towards the risen Christ.

Enjoy the weekend everyone, and we'll see you bright and early Monday morning as Henriette Delille takes on Absalom Jones.

Nino of Georgia
Born in 296, Nino (sometimes called Nina or Nune), is believed to be from a well-established and influential Christian family in the Roman province of Cappodocia.

She had a vision of the Virgin Mary, who told her to go to Caucasian Georgia, then known as Iberia, to preach the gospel. Legend held that Christ’s tunic had been taken to Georgia for safekeeping. In her appearance, Mary gave Nino a cross made of grapevines, with down-slanting arms. This is now a symbol of Georgian Orthodox Christianity—a fitting homage since Georgia is the site of the oldest wine-making tradition in the world.

Nino made a treacherous journey through Armenia and narrowly escaped death to arrive in Georgia. In the Armenian tradition, she is the sole survivor of thirty-five Christian virgins slaughtered by a hostile king. Roman Catholic hagiography holds that Nino arrived in the mission field as a slave.

In Georgia, Nino ministered to the royal household of King Mirian and Queen Nana, teaching and performing healing miracles. First, Nana converted, then her attendants, including the Jewish Sidonia, and lastly, Nana’s reluctant husband, who prayed to Nino’s God after he was struck blind. King Mirian named Christianity the official religion of his country in 326, making Georgia the second state, after Armenia, to formally adopt the young religion.

At Mirian’s request, Emperor Constantine sent clergy to Georgia to continue Nino’s teaching and spread of the gospel. In Mtskheta, Mirian began construction on the first Christian church in his country. The UNESCO World heritage site Svetitskhoveli Cathedral now sits on that site. In Georgian tradition, Christ’s seamless tunic is buried there.

Nino retired to Bodbe in eastern Georgia. She died soon after, around 338, and a monastery was immediately built in her name. It has survived the tumultuous history of the region in many forms and is now once again a monastery. In the late twentieth century, another monastery dedicated to Saint Nino was established in Phoka. A third, the Sacred Monastery of St. Nina, stands in Union Bridge, Maryland. It’s easy to see in the ministry of these devout Georgian women the strength, bravery, and industry of the saint they revere and emulate.

Collect for Nino of Georgia
Almighty God, who called your servant Nino to be your apostle to the people of Georgia, to bring those wandering in darkness to the true light and knowledge of you; Grant us so to walk in that light, that we may come at last to the light of your everlasting day; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

—Amber Belldene


Benedict the Moor
If ever there were an appropriate champion of Lent, it would certainly be Benedict the Moor, ofm (1526-1589). Also known as Benedict the African and Benedict the Ethiopian, he observed seven “Lents” every year throughout his life—a total of 280 days of the year spent in fasting and repentance.

Italians brought Benedict’s parents as slaves from Africa to Sicily, where he was born. Because of his parents’ obedient servitude, Benedict was granted his freedom at birth. As a young adult, Benedict joined a community of Franciscan hermits living in the hills of Sicily. He quickly grew in reputation, becoming one of the community’s leaders.

When Pius IV disbanded the communities of hermits, Benedict went with other monks to a nearby Franciscan monastery. There, his first work was as a cook, and his food was otherworldly! Angels were seen assisting Benedict in the kitchen as the food was multiplied to provide not only for the Franciscans but also for any visitors.

Benedict became known as a healer with the ability to read minds. So many people came for healing that Benedict got in trouble; he continued his ministry but hid in the bushes and healed visitors before they got into the monastery. The Franciscans admired Benedict’s humility and spiritual discipline, and they elevated the uneducated and unordained monk first to the position of master of novices and then guardian of the community, both positions usually reserved for priests at that time.

At the end of his life, Benedict accurately predicted the day and hour of his death. He was so respected and beloved that the people of Palermo declared Benedict the patron saint of the city shortly after his death. King Philip III financed the construction of an elaborate tomb for the simple monk.

Even in his death, Benedict served as a beacon of the Franciscan ideals of caring for those in need. He was formally beatified by the Vatican in 1743 and canonized in 1807. It can be no accident that at the height of the African slave trade—when African children were being bought and sold as chattel—the Roman Catholic Church chose to canonize a faithful Black European saint. That act made him the first person of African descent canonized by the Vatican.

Collect for Benedict the Moor
O God, you have brought us near to an innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect: Grant us during our earthly pilgrimage to abide in their fellowship, and in our heavenly country to become partakers of their joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

—David Hansen


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Nino of Georgia: guro gabashvili / CC BY-SA (
Benedict the Moor: Eugenio Hansen, OFS / CC BY-SA (


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110 comments on “Nino of Georgia vs. Benedict the Moor”

  1. In this time when we’re all penitents
    Voting Benedict in makes good sense:
    Matchless meals he prepared,
    For the stricken he cared,
    And each year he observed seven Lents!

    1. I enjoy reading your limericks as much as I do learning about the saints. Thank you for sharing them.

      1. Today’s pairing is a puzzle as we chose between a couple ordinary and yet extraordinary people. Nino, a slave herself apparently, evangelized a uber-macho, tough as nails nation. Benedict, a really nice guy with exceptional organizational and people skills, who also knew his way around the kitchen.
        I voted for Nino, because she deserves the honor but Glad for Benedict.

        1. I agree! I found Nino a new and exciting story! I will definitely have to learn more about her.

        2. Same here. Anyone who begins life enslaved has much to tell us about the meaning of life.

    2. Your limericks John are delightful.
      In the midst of so much that is frightful,
      I pop open my screen. Your thoughts shared so keen
      that I laugh away peril and become mindful.

      1. The limericks — and now the limericks about the limericks — make my whole dang day. You guys are the best!

      1. Sally Clark, are you the same dear person I met through my sister, Sharon? From Fairhope? I hope it is you because it’s another fun thing we share besides opera!


    3. Yes, I logged on too early today for the limerick, so I had to remember to come back before voting!!

    4. Mary, i have to disagree. Hermits and cloistered religious spend their lives praying for the world and for individuals who petition them for help. (Today, many carry out fruitful spiritual correspondence with people around the world.) God calls each of us to a different ministry. To answer a call to leave the world and dedicate your life to praying for others requires strength and faith and is not, in my opinion, purely self serving,

  2. The most miraculous aspect of Benedict's life is that he was a great chef, but had the saintly willpower to not partake of his own food through all his days of fasting. Being a healer is "icing on the cake". Perhaps I can vote for Nino in another Lent Madness.

  3. The healer of course.
    I digress, I feel that hermits and cloistered people that are very religious people are wonderful Christians but that kind of life is for themselves and not to make the world a better place to live. I do not consider those Christian's worthy of the saintly.

    1. In the times they lived in, many of them thought that they were dedicating their lives to the betterment of the world through their penitence and prayer. They were spending their lives making up for the sins of the rest of us, so that more of us could reach salvation

  4. Although Nino's going out in faith and establishing Christianity in a whole nation is noteworthy, I vote for Benedict, unordained by the establishment, but blessed in the kitchen and in the bush outside the walls of organization. Benedict the Moor is a significant symbol for our present social/political situation.

  5. This is the toughest choice yet for me. Both real people, both exemplary in their respective journeys, both dealing with the poisonous tendrils of slavery and prejudice. I’m going to have to wait a while and come back for guidance from my fellow pilgrims.

  6. So maybe Benedict was the first saint of African descent canonized by the ROMAN Catholic Church but certainly there were many, many saints of African and Middle Eastern descent made by tradtion and the early church?

    1. Didn't we already have a couple of Egyptian female monks in LM this year? Alexandria is in Africa, last I checked.

      1. I don't see anything in today's write-ups about Alexandria. Benedict's refers to Sicily and Nino's to Armenia.

        1. Verdery, you are correct. I believe Melanie's referring to previous days. Theodora of Alexandria was in an earlier matchup this year. Euphrosyne/Smaragdus was also from Alexandria.

  7. As the Soviet Union was in the process of dissolving, our family was living in Atlanta and became part of a "Georgia to Georgia" exchange sponsored by the Friendship Force. The visiting Georgians told us about St. Nino. I had to vote for her for Natia and Givi. However, if not for them, I probably would be voting for Benedict the Moor.

  8. While Benedict is the clear choice in many ways, I am a Nana from Maryland! So, Nino/Nina/Nuno who converted Queen Anna gets my vote today!

  9. This year it seems that either I would like to vote for both saints or neither of them. Today is a "both saints" day. Both of these saints spoke to me for similar reasons. However, the collect for Nino swayed my vote this morning.

  10. I hadn't heard of St. Nino before visiting Georgia in 2019. I was impressed by the Georgians love of their saint, their bringer of Christian salvation. She is known as the "Enlightener of All Georgia". Everywhere in the country, there are stories of her life and works. One of the small stories is that of a time when Nino went into the mountains to pray. Through her prayers, a healing spring appeared at the foot of a rock. Near the rock a tree grew up and all the animals and people who ate its leaves or seeds were healed.
    St. Nino is one of those saints I wish we were all more aware of. She gets my vote today!

  11. You always want to stay on the good side of the cooks and the nurses. I gotta go with Benedict this time.

  12. Seeing as Benedict of Nursia is my prayer partner, I voted for Benedict the Moor. However, it was really hard today. This has been the most difficult year of Lent Madness since its second year. I'm thoroughly enjoying learning about new saints who may also join me in my prayers! And I love all the limericks!

  13. This is ridiculous, who DOES these brackets? Neither saint yesterday deserved a win then today both deserve to win. Benedict is certainly a timely saint I should vote for but the lady Nina is just as appropriate. Perhaps I should roll some dice to decide— Ah! yes, like casting lots for Jesus’s robe, Nina of Ga. it is!!

      1. Excellent observation. Lent "Madness" indeed. And so thought provoking, leading to such fascinating exchanges.

  14. After enduring an tumultuous last year, where so many have died and it has in some ways felt like Lent every day, I'm going with Benedict. And hid was so called to heal that he even hid in bushes to help.

    1. My feelings exactly, Ellen! It saddened me rather, that people seeking healing were viewed by some of the brotherhood as an inconvenience, thus driving poor Benedict into the bushes.

  15. Voting for Benedict. I wonder if I can borrow those Angels to help in my kitchen. I do all right, although certainly I would not call my output heavenly. However, I am constantly dropping things so I would appreciate their help in catching what goes flying off the cutting board before it hits the floor.

    1. As I read “dropping things” I heard a glass shattering in the kitchen. Hubby swears it just fell over. What will happen next? I must go search the bushes.

  16. I haven't decided yet between the two saints, who both led inspirational lives! I lean toward both of them for their own reasons!

    I had to comment, because of the community in the name of St. Nina in Maryland (near me!)
    The possibility of a field trip is always exciting (even if we just drive past and look at the sheep).
    They have a gift store!! Yay "saintly kitsch"! ie an opportunity to support the sisters who live there by buying some handfelted soap, lanolin, coffee! icons, crosses, books including the life of Nina, or even a CD of their music!

    I hope and pray that we are all blessed today and over the weekend by the contemplation of the saints' stories we have heard this week, even or especially because some of their stories have been hard to hear.

    learn + pray + turn + go + rest + worship + bless

    1. Melissa - Thanks for this! I just told my husband, "Guess what! There's a St. Nina's Monastery and they have a gift shop!"
      Husband to me: "How much did you spend?

    2. It's not that far from my son's college (McDaniel College)! But since he graduated in May, I don't have a reason to be in that area any longer.

      The nuns seem pretty active in earning money to support their monastery! Thanks for the link.

  17. I have learned that a part of Georgia was known as Iberia. I only knew that name as the peninsula which is close to France, i.e., Spain and Portugal. It's fun to pick up these obscure facts while learning about equally obscure saints.

  18. I almost voted for Nino just for her gorgeous Orthodox fresco, but I feel that she and those thirty-five virgins have the Georgian wine industry pretty well branded. I hope she will make her way here; plenty of Caucasian Georgians in the US need to hear the gospel, just sayin'. I voted for Benedict, who seems to have his own ewer of water behind him, which he can turn to wine at any time. I do quibble with David Hansen's statement that Benedict was "the first person of African descent canonized by the Vatican." Augustine of Hippo was from Africa; surely he was canonized? Not all who are from Africa are "black." Surely David Hansen means first black African canonized? I feel the expulsion of the Moors from Spain was a great wound in European history and a stain on the church. And even if Benedict's story sounds a little bit too "Like Water for Chocolate-y," his ability to read minds and heal people from the bushes would be useful; he too could come here and help stop voter suppression efforts aimed at his contemporary brethren and sistren. It's unclear to me why Pius IV banned hermitages; I wonder if he feared that solitary monks would be susceptible to Protestant influence. He was a Medici, after all, accustomed to power, and the Council of Trent was designed precisely to combat Protestantism. In the lamentable earthly history of the universal church, the conflation of politics with spirituality is a chronic sin, and yet politics is a fact of human existence that even Jesus did not deny, so if voting for a black saint is a political gesture, then so be it. I vote for Benedict the Moor and pray that white supremacy may be extirpated in the US, from the Proud hearts of Boys and from the power structures of the nation's capitol.

    1. I was disappointed that we get to vote for someone whose alternate name is Benedict the African. Why can’t he be Benedict the Franciscan or Benedict the Healer? No one else gets called St. Mary the Irish or St. Mary the White. But we just get to vote. We don’t get to name. Sigh.

      1. I imagine the name is historical, and there must be "about a billion" Benedicts in the history of monasticism. Your comment reminds me of a story I heard about Puerto Rican families, among whom the children all have nicknames, because there are so many Marias. The nicknames respond to physical features, and one little girl in the neighborhood was called "Maria la Fea" by all the other kids (Maria the Ugly), and the nickname stuck. Even her mother called her that. One day the mother could be heard calling down the street for the child to come to dinner: "Fea! Fea! Fea!" I'd rather be called Benedict the Moor if it comes to that; there cannot have been very many black men in the monastery at the time, and for all we know there were a Benedict the Lame and a Benedict the Drunk among the others.

        1. Your comment reminded me one critic's review of 'West Side Story' which included this line , "A guy goes through a Puerto Rican neighbourhood in New York calling out "Maria!" and only one girl sticks her head out of the window? What are the odds?"

          1. In a similar vein, my very young nephew named Patrick/Paddy arrived for the first time at Dublin Airport with his parents, and they got into a taxi. Paddy asked the taxi driver his name. "Paddy," replied the driver.
            My nephew excitedly turned to his father, and said, "Daddy, Daddy....there are TWO Paddy's in Ireland!"

    2. I did a little checking up on the Augustine situation -- it turns out he was "canonised by popular acclaim" rather than by papal authority, and that seems to have been common for quite some time. So it could be that the first saint of African descent who was actually canonised by the Holy See in its official processes (which only originated in or soon after the renaissance, it looks like) is indeed Benedict....

    3. Amen!! I too voted for Benedict as both stories were full of miracles, but I just felt more drawn to him

  19. I have a good friend who has been to Georgia and seen St. Nino's burial site and the convent named for her. I've strongly encouraged him to cast his vote today. And I have also cast my vote for Nino, although it looks like Benedict is going to win it. And he's a good one, too.

  20. Realizing Benedict the Moor has no connection to this train of thought, I nonetheless started travelling down the path of Benedictine hospitality, and the precious times I have spent while on retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park New York. The Guest House has been closed since last year, and sadly remains so, but the healing combined with angelic nourishment was just reminiscent enough to guide my vote.

  21. I just want to thank all of you for your comments. Reading them each morning gives me strength and joy to know I am in the company of such friends!!

    1. I really don't see that as a life for themselves. I see it as a life for the world. Most of their time is spent in prayer, both praising God and for mercy the whole world. I consider prayer an action. There are others that do the actual physical doing, but the action of prayer is the basis of the doing. Just my view and not meant to be contrary.

  22. Sometimes I base my choices not so much on the biographies of lives lived, but rather on how the collects speak to my heart. Today's one of the latter: I'll be offering Amber's collect for Nino throughout today and adding it to my personal prayer collection.

  23. This is one of the most inspirational match-ups to date, for me. What interesting people they both are. And I will be returning to both of these collects again. I voted for Benedict but loved learning more about both.

  24. Though both are worthy, the vote in our house goes to Nino of Georgia, in honor of fond times working with my former coworker Irakli, the first Georgian I had ever known who fled what was then Soviet Georgia for his freedom and education.

  25. I wonder if Benedict's fellow monks thought seven Lents in one year was a form of Lent Madness. There's a lot to be said for Nino but Benedict got my vote.

  26. Cooking with Angels, that is beautiful to envision. His parents goodness was passed down to Benedict and his kindness to future generations. Both these saints are very worthy of my vote but Benedict struck a cord in my heart.