San Benito Abad
I. The sanctuary
Like the light of a lighthouse, in the dark at night, with its light guides all the navigators; in a similar way this white sanctuary with its Saint is a guide on the way to salvation for all the children of this region, a way so full form of dangers, and mainly to cross surely the way of our Lord.
The hermitage, where the miraculous image of San Benito venerates, is located in the Brown Mountain range, Castilblanco de los Arroyos (Seville), twelve kilometers of the same one and one of the Viar river. Its construction is simple, of medium dimensions and, although something affected by small transformations through the centuries, specially in the vestibule, painting of the interior, the sanctuary has conserved, despite almost in all its factory, the primitive style. By the end of the last century, concretely year 1883, Don Vicente Moreno, favorite son of the town and greatly devoted to the Saint, invested almost all its few economic means in repairing the many defects that the time and nature had caused in the temple, as well as in enriching it as much as he could. This restoration and improvement were celebrated with great religious and popular celebrations.
II. Its antiquity
On this delicate matter we have to recognize that firstly the laziness and ignorance of the importance of chronicles referring to this sanctuary has caused that the first brothers of San Benito and others did not write anything and if they did it, nothing has been left to us. Later, the abandonment and disinterest of the responsible, in that vigilant safekeeping of whatever trough the centuries has been written have caused that almost the totality of these documents have been lost. Because of this we were left relatively in the dark on the origin and antiquity of this famous and historical sanctuary. It has been necessity to look for it, unfortunatly, not in its own sources, but in books of other kind. The only historical source found till today, that speaks to us of this sacred place, has been a history of the Hunting. Castilblanco de los Arroyos has always been famous for hunting, many Kings and other famous people have been hunting in this area. The chronicles of the ecclesiastical and town archives confirm this, reviewing the visits of so illustrious hosts, as well as many and peculiar details of the huntings and their stays in the town. Historical investigator, Dr. Antonio Muñoz Torrado, Member of The Saint Metropolitan Catedral of Seville, author of several historical books, began an investigation, that the lack of health first and later his death cut, taken his few investigations from the local archives, and in it refers with many details some famous huntings, among them, especially, the one of the king Felipe V and his court. There are many details of importance confirming the truth of this. This hunting, says referred Mr. Torrado, was organized by the city of Seville, like flattery and amussement to His Majesty the King Felipe V and Isabel de Farnesio, with occasion of their stay in Seville from 1729 to 1733.
The King was in the company of the following personages: The Princes, Don Fernando and Doña Maria Barbara; Mr.Infante Don Carlos (King III of Spain, in the day); Mr. Don Felipe de Borbón; . Mr. D. Jose Patiño, Prime minister of Spain; a Chaplain of honor, Princess of Rober, Duchess of Montellano, the Governing Butler, the Improved Marquess , Marquess of Escotti, Excmo. Duke of Gobernais and Marquess of Balbares.
Mr. Torrado narrates the preparations they had to do for the lodging, specifies many and the houses which they occupied, in some of which left memories; he indicates the duration of the huntings and the stay in the town; he refers that Prime minister, wanting to visit with the prince a simple and small hermitage located next to the castle, in the proximities of the town and not being able to find the key of the entrance, spoiled the lock with a pistol, being hurt the Minister. In the referred hermitage a image of the crucified Christ received cult, call of the Veredejo, because J. "Veredejo" gave cult to this Christ in his own house, later has been known with the name of "Vera Cruz", later of the "Desagravios", in memory of this real visit, of the Kings. When visiting it, had left all pledged with the Sacred Image and in thanksgiving they commanded for its cult, a great lampsilver and a arqueta of wood, carved with memory of montería and flood of sacred ornamentos. This Arqueta is still conserved in the parochial temple. Finally, indicating several more remarkable incidents of the huntings, finishes the investigator recognizing the importance of the hunting in this small town. This same fame, says the same writer, recognizes it and comments king Alfonso XI in its book of the Montería, in whose work the real author says who already, in the middle of XIV century , very were known the cacederos and trerias del río Viar, mentioning several places like Siete Arroyos, Arroyo de Gardón, Arroyo de Tamujoso, Cabeza y Arroyo del Chincón, Rincón del Milano, Alcornosa and Camino de San Benito. Mr. Torrado adds a commentary and says: " Of the places that mention, it deserves special mention San Benito, which comes to demonstrate that in the middle of XIV century already the Sanctuary of the miraculous saint existed ". Of consequence, by the remark of king Alfonso XI, we see that in century XIV the place of San Benito was already very well-known and, therefore, the sanctuary and the image of the saint. It is of absolute certainty that the devotion from this region to San Benito and his sanctuary dates back to, at least, XIII century or the beginning of XIV century. We thank the great Spanish king for his remarks of such historical place.
III. Origin of this devotion
Something similar to the previous chapter about the reasons for the lack of precision and exactitude to the antiquity of the sanctuary, can be said about its origin. We have almost no historical data, to be able to indicate the reason and origin of this old devotion. We do not have information apart from some paintings and images that are still conserved. In the Room of the Miracles of the Sanctuary there is a good number of paintings offered in gratitude to San Benito who has the nickname of "Aparecido" (the one that appears). On the bottom of the oldest prints or images appears the following inscription: " In memory of San Benito, Aparecido, that one venerates in his hermitage, that is in the town of Castilblanco; eighty days of indulgence by Mr. D. Alfonso Marcos Llanes, Archbishop of Seville, to that I will say a Pater Noster and an Ave Maria in front of his image ". By these images, we see that since long ago, it has existed the devotion to this Saint, maybe that is the reason a temple was built on his honor. This old belief was common among the clergy and the devoted people from different places; this image was venerated by the bishop. Which is a testimony that confirms the origin of this devotion to San Benito "Aparecido". Nothing tell us about appearance of the saint, neither who took part, neither exact causes that motivated this event.
IV. Regional devotion
The reach that this devotion had in its early days, as well as later trough the centuries until XVII century, we do not know because of the lack of documents. Nevertheless, we have to recognize that, if the origin of this devotion was the appearance of the Saint in these blessed places, in those times had to be this place San Benito`s main center of the devotions of the region; since the Christian atmosphere had to be more alive becoming the sanctuary a frequent center of peregrinations. That is what happen normally in those times of Christian life and in which the Spanish town was deeply catholic-practical and theological . The oldest book that exist belongs to theBrotherhood´s archives dating back to second half of XVII century: it's a book of Brothers and shows a relation of surviving brothers, expressing his names and addresses. This book is a prove that in those times San Benito' brothers were alive and living in the following towns: Castilblanco de los Arroyos, Sevilla, Cantillana, Tocina, Cazalla, Constantina, Alanís, Guadalcanal, Villaverde del Río, Villanueva del Río y Minas, Burguillos, Alcalá del Río, La Algaba, Santiponce, Guillena, El Algarrobo, Gerena, El Ronquillo, Santa Olalla, Almadén de la Plata, Manzanilla, Brenes, El Pedroso and other towns. We have to recognize that the devotion to San Benito, Aparecido, is extended trough many towns where the spirit and life from his Brotherhood had arrived; We have to recognize that there would be other many places in which fervent devots would exist, although they were not brothers of Saint. Let us recognize by logical conclusion , that this devotion to San Benito has been trough the years very important in this region.
V. The miraculous image
The second statue that is venerated in the Sanctuary, has the style of the last centuries, the head and the hands are made on wood, almost all the body of candlestick, the eyes made of crystal , the skin has a strong color and the habit made of cloth; the miraculous statue does not correspond to the antiquity of this devotion and the sanctuary; reason why the first statue had to be another one or the present one has received many transformations trough the centuries. History and tradition say nothing to us of any other statue that received cult in this hermitage. Through the centuries the statue has had to suffer the effects of nature and time because of which it has been necessary of different repairs. On the beginning of the last century, in 1833 according to the inscription done in the same statue, it was restored at Juan Bermejos and Maria Castaño's home, a couple that lived in Catilblanco de los Arroyos. It does not specify of what the restoration consisted or what parts of the statue were restored; as well as in the year 1954 when it was restaured again in the Escuelas Profesionales de la Santísima Trinidad de Sevilla. It's certain that the different mentalities and tastes from the time influenced in the venerated statues, like dressing them in rich clothing and jewlery, conserving intact the structure inside, without any transformation of the sacred statue except from the clothing; in other cases some part of the statue's structure was taken away for the clothing to fit; sometimes almost totally transforming the statue, giving it crystal eyes, changing the color of the skin depending with the taste of the time. It is probable, that the miraculous statue or image of San Benito, at the moment venerated in his hermitage, that like so many others, gone through many changes.
VI. His paternal protection
The feelings that flood the spirit and the heart of Jesus Christ and He declared especially in His mortal life, to show all men His spiritual way, His truth, His life and its compassion to our diseases, hunger and other necessities. He preached without rest, simultaneously to carry out all classes of miracles which they remedied evils and miseries, that confirmed the truth of His word and His divine mission and, finally, to give His life on the cross, to pardon the sins of the world and to complete His rescuing work. The Church, continuating of the mission and the work of Christ in favor of the people, takes care to form, to guide and to vitalize all its children in our way towards God and the Sky, proving the Lord the attendance and protection in many forms, specially with its miracles and continuous favors. San Benito, full of the spirit of the Lord and faithful son of the Church, has been always for all men, specially for his devoted, a loving and caring father of the life and health of his children, untiring beneficent in all our spiritual and material necessities, giving priority, naturally, to the most important and sacred, the glory of God and our sanctification and salvation, instilling it a more perfect knowledge of the true religion, awaking a deeper and integral love of the fellowman, and demanding a so exemplary conduct to us that we deserve to reach our last aim, the Eternal life.
Are there not powerful proof of what we said previously when we look at this privileged region? Those fervent orations of Christians of so many towns, whose walk they undertake with joy, basing their hopes and in their great protector, spiritual favors his are; promotion in the parade of the enormous caravans that, barefoot and in silence, go full of faith and love, the same or even more is necessary to recognize in the great sacrifices of those who make the walk on their knees from their town, like Cantillana, or from the iron gate of the Infant, prevailing so great penance, since those laborious ways, by its slopes and stones, are for the penitente a bleeding, painful and permanent discipline; it also encourages the faith and devotion of so many, as the shephard of Cantillana, for whome the greatest joy is to contemplate and pray to the Saint, his greatest sacrifice not to attend the sacred celebration, he becomes, at any moment, the greatest enthusiast of San Benito, who solves everything and in whose blessed hands he deposits all his confidence; he also moves the hearts and the faith of so many others that, full of faith and love of the Saint, being difficult or impossible to attend, send with a visitor their generous contribution for the increase of their cult, and, finally, testimony of the gratitude of the people are the thousands of candles consumed before the altar, that come to be true fire of faith and love of so many fervent hearts that love him, they are thankful and devoted to him.
Let us recognize these favors of the Saint and the most important of all his favors for this attractive region. San Benito can not forget that, like him, we are men, who we have many necessities and miseries, that we walk in this valley of tears, and that, he remembers in his paternal heart, to care for and remedy, as all we can testify, and this demonstrate his innumerable prodigies and miracles.
All those spiritual and material favors and attentions that the Lord has done and in the passing of time will always do, are trustworthy tests not only that San Benito is full of the spirit and feelings of Christ and of the Church, that by his merits he is given by the Lord great power and influence, and also shows the truth and importance of whatever his life and words have taught us.
Perpetual and graphical testimony of the many material favors that the Saint has given to his devoted, even though very limited by their number and time, are the votive paintings that are exposed in Sala de Milagros, contiguous to the hermitage, unequivocal test of their constant desvelo and protection.
Admitting, like it has been said before, all we know that their prodigies and miracles in the material order are without number; reason why the book of his miracles would be too voluminous; because of the shortness of this history and as an example, we are only going to review the one of the lost boy, given its importance and the present time, since it happened lately, still living almost all the protagonists and of whom almost the totality of the adults of Castilblanco of Streams were witnesses, who still remember it with emotion.
THE LOST BOY
It seems like a medieval legend, with the ingenuous enchantment of so many others of that time, that patient monks gathered in ample enameled parchments of delicate miniatures. And, nevertheless, it is of our days. Still almost all the protagonists of this history are alive because it happened not that long ago here in Andalusia. It resembles one of those miracles that Gonzalo de Berceo sang to us or King Sabio in their"Cantigas". It was the month of February of year 1924. That cold morning of the Carnival, while the great cities and still the small town still slept, Jose Maria González Mateos, the shepherd of the dehesa of the Small furnace, in the rustic term of Castilblanco de los Arroyos, had left with its flock to look for grass. In the middle of the wild mountains, in his poor small house the shepherd had been left his three small children. The mother, Antonia Lora Núñez, were also absent . The children were playing next to the house. In the middle of their games they saw a man approaching, whose aspect - torn clothes, long beard, a stick or cane in the hand - scares them. One of the young ones shouts terrified: - a poor man! There comes a poor man! The three children run in different directions without thinking about the way that take. Shortly after, when seeing that the man who scared to them continues on his way, the older children both return home. But with them does not return the minor, Angel, only four years old. Separated from the others when he was running, Angel, because of his age, has not been able to remember the way he took, nor has the scare allowed his small brothers to pay attention to where the small boy ran. When after some time they do not see him return, they begin to call for him: - Angel, Angel! Their infantile voices resonate and are lost in the luminous solitude of the mountain range: - Angel, Angel! No voice, but only the echo, answers the call. The brothers start crying. A good woman lives in anotherhouse nearby. The woman and the children begin to look for the lost brother in the mountains. The search is unfruitful. Angel does not appear anywhere. The hours pass, of an unspeakable anguish. The Civil Guard of Castilblanco has been informed and all the neighbourhood cross the mountain range in all directions in search of the lost boy. The night falls, the cold night of February in the Sevillian mountain range, and with the shadows grows the restlessness and the anguish. Nobody sleeps in Castilblanco. All the town, with lanterns and lights, crosses the narrow paths of the mountain range time and time again. The frost is materialized on the jarales and the frost soaks the blankets that the men cover themselves with. The search continues: - Angel, Angel! The voices continue resounding, coming back time and time again by the echo, but nobody answers. Three days and nights passes. All the town believe by now that the boy is dead. The overflowed imagination formulates the diverse conjectures on what has happened to the boy. For the women, mainly, there is no doubt: "he has been robbed by that poor man" who the children saw approaching their home. But, still supposing that it was not like that, how could a so small boy have resisted as much time, alone, lost in the mountain range, without clothes that resisted the frost of the nights? For the parents every hour is a new stab in the heart. Where is their dear son? Perhaps he has fallen down somewhere during his running, and now he suffers without the hands of his mother to caress his face, or exhausted, giving up already, calling for his parents, who can not aid him, being an easy pray for the wild animals of the mountains. Lost are the hopes, the parents and the whole town with them have gone to the glorious guardian saint of the region, San Benito, asking him the care for the lost son. It seems as if Heaven listened to the ardent pleas of the mother and the trusted oration of the town. After two days spent of mortal anguish, in afternoon of the third day a shepherd crosses the mountains in search of firewood, by Valdearenas, in the neighborhoods of the hermitage of Saint, some distance from Hornillo. Valdearenas is a rustic place, in whith great rocky crags excelling among the swelling weeds resembling giants in the mountain range. The shepherd is gathering his firewood when he finds surprised, little further on, a boy pursuing between stones. The shepherd feels how the heart jumps in his chest and runs to encounter the boy. This one is scared, interrupts his games and flees, but soon he is reached. All the town celebrates with joy the finding. The boy is given back to the arms of his parents, who cannot repress the emotion of the moment. The mother, after the uncontrollable joy of the encounter, ask to know of the life of her son during the three terrible days. The boy in his childish language, only says: - a good woman, dressed in black, gave white higos to me to eat and at night she wrapped me with her black mantle. The Christian heart of the mother guesses that the woman is Nuestra Señora de los Dolores and goes with her boy to the parochial Church of Castilblanco to give thanks to the Virgin. When they are in front of her altar she asks: - Son, is this the good woman that gave you food and sheltered you at nights? The boy fixes his eyes on the image and answers: - No, this is not her. The enigma continue for several months unsolved. In the town people have already almost forgotten the event. But for the parents, who believed their son dead, the memory has still not disappeared, nor will never . It is the 27th of August and Castilblanco becomes prepared to go in romeria to the Sanctuary of San Benito. Also the parents go to thank once again to the glorious Padrino of the region for the favor they received, and also bring their son, that never has visited the hermitage. During the devoted joy of the romeros, the parents and the son enters in the white church. They go towards the altar where the Saint is venerated. The parents fall to thei knees. The boy raises his glance towards the altar and when seeing the image of Saint with his black clothing, exclaims: - There! That is the woman who took care of to me! While the tears of the parents and many of others fall uncontrollable, a single voice is raised to Heaven in the middle of the mountainous area: - Miracle, miracle!
There is a deep meaning in the event that we just finished relating. In the eyes of God, all the men are like small children. Inconcientes, rebels, capricious, nor do we know what is good for us, nor have we forces to follow it, putting in front of it to our whims. Everywhere, and also in our blessed Andalusia, the Earth of Maria Santísima, many like the youngest boy of the children of the shepherd Jose Maria, are lost, disoriented, among the swelling weeds of life, without finding the path. And, in the bottom of our soules we feel lonely in front of the quiet immensity. That glorious San Benito, who was like a mother for the lost boy of Castilblanco, does that so many of his devoted, in this region venerate him, realize that, if sometimes they have left him, not to leave it already more, the only way, Christ, who takes without deviation danger, to the House of the Father in Heaven!
VII. The cult
With the desire that these words are for you, devoted fervent of San Benito; that your thought and your life will be directed towards a true and authentic devotion of the Saint; that in them you will reproduce the faithful echo of his voice. We hope you do not come in the practices of your devotion only under the impulse of your natural feelings, where it does not exist a solid Christian formation and a straight reason. So many times our Christian conduct does not correspond to our sincere devotion, we take scrupulously care of it and we forgot the sacred obligations. in an authentic devotion, far from forgetting and still to debilitate the fulfillment of its sacred duties must give you impulses to improve its faithful fulfillment. Do not confuse the value of things. The most important is the belief in God. The devotion to the Saint is a complement to that. The belief gives value and life to the devotion. You do not confuse either what God demands of you and what San Benito says and advises. You cannot forget the Lord, thinking that you honor the Saint. San Benito had always his will totally submissive to the one of God and thus what the Lord wants is what desires the Saint. If you think that you could be devoted to the Saint forgetting God, you you are mistaken. To love and to honor San Benito naturally includes to love and to honor God, since a son can never be honored by him who insults and offends the father. Therefore, if you really love the Saint, which we cannot doubt, you must cherish the time of life that the Lord grants you, specially the Day of the Lord, Sunday, going to the sermon and not forgetting that, without the practice of the Sacraments of cofession and comunion you can not be a good son of God and, therefore, will not be able to fulfill faithfully His sacrade obligations nor to be an authenticly devoted to the Saint, since they give back the health to you and divine life and gives you the forces necessary to overcome the difficulties of life.
These two are the most frequent practices of devotion in honor to San Benito: the Novena and the Triduo of Sundays. In addition to advice you to the practice of the Novena, since in this way you will reach better the protection of the Saint. I recommend that to you pray every day or, at least, some days of the week since thus, with your clean concience and near Christ, you will reach with with more force and effectiveness what you desire. The practice of Three Sundays consists of confessing and praying those three days and to make an exercise of the indicated ones for every day of the Novena.