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Sunday, 1 July 2012

Benedictines

The Benedictine Order was founded by St Benedict (480-543) at Mount Cassino in 529.

After founding the Benedictine order Benedict compiled a series of rules by which the Benedictine monks should live by. In his Rule he allocated each monk a pound of bread and two cooked dishes each day, though meat was forbidden.

Benedict wrote practically in his Rule "For the daily meal let there be two cooked dishes so that he who happens not to be able to eat of one may take his meal of the other. Avoid excess-above all things, that no monk shall be overtaken by indigestion."

In his Rule he allocated each monk a nemina (quarter of a litre) of wine each day. Benedict would have liked to prohibit wine but he realized it would be an overly controversial measure, so he restricted his demands to banning drunkenness.

The Rules of Benedict specified that monks should spend two hours a day reading holy books.


In 580 the Benedictine Mount Cassino monastery was sacked by the Lombards thus fulfilling a prophecy of Benedict. The monks took refuge in Rome and started to spread knowledge of Benedictine rule. The Benedictine movement within the next few centuries became a key source for the conversion of Germany and England to Roman Christianity.

The Benedictine order arrived in England in 597 when a monastery was built in Canterbury by the Benedictine prior St Augustine.  Other Benedictine missionaries completed the conversion of England to Roman Christianity. A century later the English Benedictines, Sts. Willibrord and Boniface successfully evangelized Germany and from there it spread northwards to Scandinavia and southwards to Spain.

In 816 the Benedictine monastic order was imposed on the Holy Roman Empire. By this time the Benedictine had become the only form of monastic life throughout the whole of Western Europe, excepting Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, where the Celtic form of Christianity remained prevalent.

A typical Benedictine day in England in the ninth century was : 12.00 Laud and Mass. Back to bed. 7.00 Service (prime) and mass. Breakfast. Discuss day’s business. 12.00 Work. 5.00 Vespers then relaxation. 6.30 Supper. 7.00 Compline then bed.

The Benedictines were also known as "Black Monks" because in Summer they wore black robes and sandals. In Winter they wore woollen underclothes and fur boots.

Because Benedict never mentioned underpants in his instructions, his followers were not allowed to wear them.

The Benedictine Abbey of Cluny in France was founded in 910 by the Abbot Berno as a reaction to the corruption and lack of zeal in the Benedictine Order. It became the headquarters of the Cluniac order, who were noted for their strict adherence to the rule of St Benedict. From here monastic reforms were spread and Cluny became the leader of western monasticism from the later 10th century.

The Benedictine order was to be the most important order in Europe for many centuries and produced 50 Popes and many cardinals and Archbishops. By the 11th century they existed in great numbers in every country of Western Europe except Ireland. By the reformation there were almost 300 Benedictine monasteries and nunneries in England.

During the Dark Ages copies of the masterpieces of Roman literature were preserved and recopied in the monasteries of the Benedictine monks.

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