The Benedictines

Book 2, Chapter 8, Edwy the Fair from 955 AD to 975 – Origin of Monasteries in England

As for the habits of the monks, they were left to the discretion of the abbots, according to the nature of the country, as it was either hotter or colder. In temperate climates a cowl and a tunic were sufficient, the cowl thicker for winter and thinner for summer, and a scapular to work in. The scapular was the upper garment worn during the time of labour, which was put off, and the cowl worn during the rest of the day. Everyone had two tunics and two cowls, either to change at night or to wash them. The stuff they were made of was the cheapest the country afforded. To the end that no man might have any property that he could call his own, the abbots found them all with everything that was necessary, that besides the habit, a handkerchief, a knife, a needle, a pen, and tablets to write.

Their beds were a mat, a straw bed, a piece of serge, a blanket, and a pillow. The strength of the church depended on its unity and that upon the supremacy of Rome. To establish and support that supremacy the popes were hi those times encouraging the regular in opposition to the secular clergy, and to affect this they took advantage of a revolution in monachism of which St. Benedict, an Italian peasant, had been unconsciously the author. Benedict had formed a rule for the monks under his direction, which, because it was milder and less unreasonable than the manner of life prescribed in any former institutions of the kind, prevailed gradually to the extinction for awhile of all others in the western church. His monasteries were at first independent of each other, but they soon found the convenience of associating for the better defence or their privileges, and this was favoured by provincial councils, because the object of preserving discipline was promoted by it, till the Benedictines throughout Christendom became at length members of one body, under one general.

Benedictine Monk

Wise princes encouraged them as the only instructors of youth, and the best promoters of civilization. The popes had a further object in view, the tendency of national churches was to continue independent of the papal power, but the regulars belonged to their order, not to their country, and owing their exemption from Episcopal jurisdiction to the popes, they for their own sake supported the Roman see in all its usurpations.

Benedict was an Italian, born AD 480, whose peculiar associations of thought induced him to descend into a deep cavern in a desert, and to reside there for several years, known only to a friend, who let down his provisions. His singularities attracted notice, and, being connected with a piety that seems to have been genuine, though enthusiastic, at last produced veneration. His admiring spectators were so numerous, that he was enabled to found many monasteries near him. He afterwards went to Mount Cassin, in the kingdom of Naples, destroyed some temples of idolatry which he found there, erected a monastery, and laid down a new series of rules for its governance. Benedict died about 543. Soon afterwards the Lombard’s destroyed his monastery at Mount Cassin. The monks fled to Pope Polo guise, which by giving them an asylum, kept alive an institution destined to overspread the West.

The memory of Benedict was preserved, and peculiarly honoured by the famous Pope Gregory, who admired his regulations, and devoted one book of dialogues to record his supposed miracles. By the insistence of the third Gregory, who died in 742, the monastery at Mount Cassin was rebuilt, and this new construction first began the establishment of its fame. Zachary, the following pope, sent them the MS. rule of Benedict, and gave them, as a mark of his favour, the important and attractive privilege of being under no bishop, and no jurisdiction, but that of the pope. The Benedictine rule began now to diffuse itself beyond Italy. Boniface, the Anglo-Saxon missionary to Germany, built a Benedictine monastery in Fulda, which the Pope sanctioned, and which Pepin exempted from all ecclesiastical jurisdictions, but the papal.

In distributing the various duties of the day, Benedict was careful that every moment should be diligently employed. Six hours were allotted to sleep. Soon after midnight the monks rose to chant the nocturnal service, during the day they were summoned seven times to the church, to perform the other parts of tire canonical office. Seven hours were employed in manual labour, two in study, and the small remainder was devoted to the necessary refection of the body. Their diet was simple do but sufficient twelve, perhaps eighteen, ounces of bread, half a pint of wine, and two dishes of vegetables composed their daily allowance. The flesh of quadrupeds was strictly prohibited but the rigour of the law was relaxed in favour of the children, the aged, and the infirm. To the colour, the form, and the quality of their dress, he was wisely indifferent, and only recommended that it should be adapted to the climate, and similar to that of the labouring poor.

Each monk slept in a separate bed, but all lay in their habits, that they might be ready to repair, at the first summons, to the church. Everything was possessed in common not only articles of convenience, but even of necessity, were received and resigned at the discretion of the abbot. No brother was allowed to cross the threshold of the monastery without the permission of his superior at his departure he requested the prayers of the community at his return he lay prostrate in the church, to atone for the dissipation of his thoughts during his absence. Whatever he might have seen or heard without the walls of the convent, he was commanded to bury in eternal silence.

The favour of admission was purchased with a severe probation. On his knees, at the gate, the postulant requested to be received among the servants of God but his desires were treated with contempt, and his pride was humbled by reproaches. After four days his perseverance subdued the apparent reluctance of the monks, he was successively transferred to the apartments of the strangers and of the novices, and an aged brother was commissioned to observe his conduct, and to instruct him in the ditties of his profession. Before the expiration of the year, the rule was read thrice in his presence, and each reading was accompanied with the admonition, that he was still at liberty to depart. At last, on the anniversary of his admission, he entered the church, and avowed before God and the community, his determination to spend his days in the monastic profession, to reform his conduct, and to obey his superiors. The solemn engagement he subscribed with his name, and deposited on the altar.

Chapter 8, Edwy the Fair


Origin of Anglo Saxon Surnames

Conflicting Testimony Concerning Edwy

Incident on His Coronation Day

Treatment of Elgiva

Edgar the Pacific

Chapter 8, Origin of Monasteries in England

Introduction of Celibacy

Their Rules and Practice

The Benedictines

Chapter 8, Dunstan

Sketch of Dunstan

His Alleged Visions and Miracles

Becomes Abbot, Bishop and Archbishop

Chapter 8, Archbishop Dunstan and the Clergy

His Character and Policy

Aided by Bishops Oswald and Ethelwald

The Secular Clergy Supplanted by the Monks

King Edgar’s Private Life

The Worth of the Eulogies Pronounced on Him by the Monks

The Canons of Edgar

His Position Among the Anglo-Saxon Kings

Policy Towards the Danes of Northumbria


Categories: Book 2

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