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. I was reading today's post when my husband brought me homemade beignets and coffee in bed. Just because it's unimportant doesn't mean it's not a sign. I voted for Benedict on the spot.

  2. I voted for Benedict because of his caring, healing and feeding. Sounds like a later version of loaves and fishes. I guess the angels who danced over the food preparation are a predecessor of today’s crock pot or insta pot. Benedict’s commitment to healing and feeding were a true labor of love.

  3. First, a thank you to my priest, Fr Josh, for putting me onto Lent Madness. I am really enjoying the whole experience! The limericks and shared thoughts are the highlight of my day. Thank you all for making this Lent one of the most thought provoking and, dare I say, fun of my life!

  4. I had to vote for St. Nina in honor of my friend Givi, whose daughter is named Nina in the saint's honor. He is so proud of his Georgian homeland and dedicated to his Georgian Orthodox Church. And he has introduced me to Georgian wine, another great tradition of which I was formerly unaware. Go, Georgia!!

  5. Love the limericks and learning so much each day .. Benedict gets my vote today!

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

  7. I went with Benedict today - my uncle was a gourmet cook, and when he was in seminary at Nashotah House in Wisconsin, during Epiphany he was horrified when the seminarians were presented with an all-white meal of something along the lines of fish, white rice, and cauliflower. He promptly offered to take over the kitchen, and became an even better cook learning to use what was available in their pantry.

  8. I'm fascinated by this little fact thrown out there that the Pope disbanded the hermits. I can't find more except references to hermitages being abolished. No explanations. Can someone elucidate?

  9. Was anyone else reminded of "The Lilies of the Field"? At the end of the book we learn that the chapel built by itinerant black laborer Homer Smith was named for St. Benedict the Moor, and that the picture of the saint hanging in the chapel was modeled on Smith.

  10. I am in awe of your ability to continue to find more saints for us to ponder after so many years. I do not know where you find them but please keep it up.

  11. Nino/Nina was also known simply as The Christian in Georgia/Iberia for her missionary work. In France, she was known as La Chrétienne, and in the early 1800s an order of religious sisters was formed who chose her as their patron. They exist to this day, teaching and working in the U.S, Canada, Europe and Africa. They have been included in the Righteous Among the Nations for hiding and saving Jewish children during the Holocaust.
    I'm an Episcopalian today, but Nino gets my vote in thanksgiving for 12 wonderful years of schooling from the Sisters of Ste Chrétienne.

  12. Lent Madness score: 13 out of 13 so far!
    Most of the choices have been obvious to me up to now. The next round will be more difficult.
    There are reasons why the majority made the choices in the matchups. I think there are three broad categories of criteria for the choices, although elimination can depend on which other saint each is matched with.
    Not reason enough:
    There are many qualities which may have been enough for beatification and canonization but are not reason enough for these choices:
    Martyrdom There are many saints who are martyrs, which can get them into the canon but may not make them better choices than others.
    Miracles These may be qualifications for sainthood but are very difficult to verify.
    Mysticism and magic Also hard to verify and not necessarily relevant in history or today.
    Monasticism A way of life which may help the saint but not always or necessarily others.
    Definite reasons for rejection:
    Murder and mayhem. Physicians take an oath first to do no harm. Many church leaders through history have been celebrated and even led movements, despite advocating war, murder, torture, excommunication, exclusion and other harms but they will not be on my list, unless there is repentance and rectification, as with Saint Paul.
    Positive reasons for choice:
    Service - to God, to humanity and to all of creation. This is the biggest reason for choice. It can apply to the time of the saint, to the course of history and particularly to today. It may be in the realm of spirituality and contributions to the church, in science and knowledge or in any organized endeavour to benefit others.
    Sacrifice - not mindless self-harm but putting God and others ahead of oneself in all that is done.
    Sanctity - genuine devotion to God and to others. It may be in obvious piety but may be in the everyday aspects of reverence.
    Redemption - Showing signs of living out blessings and sanctification. - What we might describe as holiness.
    Relevance - Meaning as much today as it might have in the saint's own time and throughout history.
    The above criteria are not mutually exclusive but do provide guidelines to making defensible choices in any of the matchups. (Judging others could disqualify a person for inclusion in the list, so I guess I would be out)

    1. I perceive a matrix here. Your typology makes me wonder in which scientific field you were trained.

  13. Both slaves. Both loved God. Different genders and nationality. One gave up all living selflessly. One served people. I’m going with service to others.

  14. I'm voting for Nino for her choice to leave a comfortable life to follow a vision, traveling far from home (a dangerous and traumatic journey, as it turned out that she saw many other women killed before she arrived at her destination), and surviving, as a slave, to bring Christianity to an entire nation.

    I agree that Benedict is also a worthy contender, and I particularly liked that the RC church canonized a black African in the early 19th century.

  15. I'm grateful for the Nina's story. But as I Standout weekly for Black Lives at my UU church, I have to go vote Benedict. The bio describes how much he was loved during his lifetime; still I can't help imagining that he must've experienced racism frequently. He persevered because of his love of Jesus.

  16. I came prepared to vote for Benedict the Moor this morning but learned so much about Nino and her impact on Georgia that I voted for her instead. I love the idea that Jesus' seamless garment lies buried beneath the Cathedral--another "thin place" in our spacious world. I'll look for some Georgian wine next time I'm out.

  17. Two saints new to me today. Both are inspiring, but my vote goes to Benedict, for the cooking and for lurking in bushes in order to heal people. We have a prayer in the Iona community, take us outside holiness, and Benedict reminds me of this.

  18. The Virgin told Nino to bind the 2 grapevine branches together with strands of her hair. In her shrine, a lovely icon shows her long black hair. I bought a simple silver cross there, many years ago .... curved branches, bound by silver strands - still hanging around my neck!

  19. What a difficult choice!!!! Both very worthy and I want to see the loser of this match up next year!!! I voted for Nino because her faithfulness changed an entire nation. But Benedict is certainly worthy as well! I kind of like that the standout in the community at first is his divine cooking. This truly is a way to make friends and influence people.

  20. When both options are inspiring, it seems to me, the best choice is to wait until someone spills the beans and comments which saint is ahead, and vote for the other one. I restrict myself from looking at the votes until after I vote, but if you wait long enough (it’s after 5 here) someone is bound to mention the standings. Both wonderful people, thank you for introducing me to them!

  21. I felt compelled to vote for Benedict (my father's middle name!) but also because he healed people from the bushes, refusing to bow to the religious spirit of his time!

    1. I wish the SEC would resume the practice of previous years of including "Saintly Sprinkles" recipes in the Saintly Scorecard. Something that Benedict might have prepared would have been worth cooking!

  22. I voted for Benedict and for the healing witness of Black freedom fighters and spiritual leaders in America. I was really moved by the accounts of Benedict healing. In Paul Sabatier's pivotal biography of Francis of Assisi (written in the late 19th c), he suggests that Francis especially was noted for healing "nervous dispositions" and demons. To Sabatier that suggested that Francis's deeply calming influence and deep spiritual peace helped folks we would understood had epilepsy or diseases exacerbated by stress or anxiety find calmness and heal. That's how I'm seeing Benedict, a later Franciscan.

    Wanting to learn more about Benedict and try to decipher the various epithets assigned to him, I found this wonderful church art in Chicago celebrating African Americans: The home page shows their crucifix; scroll down and click to see more of their sacred art. I like their calling him "Benedict the African." It seems more accurate.

    Looking around on the internet, it seems that while the Italians of his own day might have called him a Moor or "moro" for "dark" (so says my Italian-speaking husband), it sounds as though his parents were from Ethiopia and that they were enslaved because they were black Africans, captured as part of the slave trade of that era. So for us, "Benedict the Moor" seems misleading, as he wasn't part of the various Muslim groups that had earlier conquered north Africa and much of the Iberian peninsula. Maybe someone else knows more about his history?

    1. Thanks for the link - I love that crucifix and their Benedict Stained glass.

      You are correct — “moor” would have been used to mean dark ‘ African

  23. This one was a tough one, and I pondered long and hard, and, yes, prayed, before casting my vote. I ended up letting my heart rule my head, and voted for Benedict. I did so not because Nino/Nina/Nune was less worthy than he but for purely personal reasons: 1) my mother was a chef, and I learned early from her to enjoy cooking (although there's a noticeable lack of angels in my kitchen!); 2) my daughter (in-law) is black and displays many saintly qualities; 3) I come from a family of nurses and doctors, so I respect the healer side of Benedict.

  24. Georgian pride! Go, St. Nino! (or in Georgian, ნინოწმინდა = Ninotsminda).