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Life as a Medieval Monk
How Monasticism Got Started
What does the term “monk” mean and who was the first known monk? The word “monk” is a Greek word that means “single” or “alone”. According to history the first Christian monk was a twenty year old boy named Anthony who was raised in Egypt. Somewhere around the year 270, Anthony gave all his possessions away and went to live in the desert. He soon had a reputation as being a holy man and others wanted to be like him, so they came to live near him and lived alone like he did to show their devotion to God. By the fifth century the monastic movement had spread to Ireland. The Irish monks spread Christianity to Scotland, England and Wales.
The Benedicine Rule
The biggest change in the early monastic life came with St. Benedict
in about 529 AD. He founded a community of monks living and working and praying in isolation from the outside world. St. Augustine brought St. Benedict’s rules to England in the year 597 AD and brought order to medieval monasteries. The monks were the heros of medieval times and kept learning alive, making beautiful copies of the Bible and painting exquisite pictures to show the people different Bible stories. The monks were the most educated persons in Medieval society and the Benedictine monks were the largest order.
Your Life as a Monk
Pretend that you have just become a medieval monk. How would you live? By the 10th century most monasteries in Western Europe followed the Benedictine rule and the rules you would have to obey were as follows:
Once you have entered a monastery, you must stay there until you die
All monks must take turns working in the kitchens, and waiting on tables
Monks must remain busy, either with hard manual work or in study and prayer
Monks must remain silent, unless they have to speak
The abbot must be the boss of the community of monks
The abbot must hold meetings with all the monks decide on monastery business
The abbots’ orders must be obeyed without argument
Every monk must take a vow of chastity
No monk should own anything
Monks must pray together seven times a day
At every meal, a part of the Bible must be read.
Great care must be taken of the sick
It was a rule that each monk had to pray every three hours, and a day in your life as a monk would look like this.
Wake up at 1:45 am
Church at 2:00 am
Go to sleep at 3:30 am
Church at 4:am
Reading by yourself and prayer at 5:00 am
Church and then breakfast at 6:00 am
Work at 9:15 am
Church at 11:45
Noonday meal at 12:00
Reading by yourself and prayer at 1:00 pm
Sleep at 1:45pm
Church at 2:45pm
Supper at 5:45 am
Church at 6:pm
Reading by yourself and prayer at 7:15pm
Church at 7:45pm
Bedtime at 8:00 pm
Medieval Monks as Heros
Mediveal monks became heroes of early Medieval Europe because they had clearly dedicated their lives to God and became examples for others. Many monks were experts in farming and growing herbs as medicines. Powerful medieval families began building monasteries on their own property and these became very influential. The abbots were frequently related to these powerful families. Abbeys another name for monasteries, often became rich, although the individual monks owned no property and only had one meal a day in winter and two meals a day in summer. Another important source of riches for the abbeys was housing pilgrims. During Medieval times religious relics that were passed off as a piece of the cross, the blood of Christ, or saint’s bones were often housed in monasteries and pilgrims would flock to see these things.
The Rise and Fall of Medieval Monasteries
Monasteries were the most numerous in Britain in the early 14th
Century, when there were about 500 different abbeys. However, in 1348 the plague or Black Death, a terrible disease spread by rats, killed so many people that the monasteries declined in number and never fully recovered. During the 1530’s Henry VIII denied the Pope’s authority and destroyed many monasteries especially in isolated places. A few of the monasteries near large centers survived, but the rest were torn down and the local people used them as building materials.
Vocabulary and spelling Lesson
Write out the following words ten times and test yourself to see if you can spell them right.
What does the word “monk” mean?
What was the plague or Black Death?
What is an abbey?
Why was St. Benedict important to monasteries?
What did St. Augustine do for monasticism?
What did an abbot do in a monastery?
What two things did the most damage to monasticism?
Research material was taken from the following web sites:
Guided Tours of Monasteries
(picture tour of monastry)
(picture tour of monastry)
Medieval Monastic Manuscripts
(manuscripts of medieval monks)
Katherine Tapley-Milton has been a freelance writer for over 20 years and has been published in over 70 periodicals. She has a B.A. from Mount Allison University and a Master of Theological Studies degree from Tyndale Seminary. She lives in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada with her husband Dave and two cats.
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