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The Benedictine Centuries: Monasticism in Anglo-Saxon England, 597-1066

The Benedictine Centuries: Monasticism in Anglo-Saxon England, 597-1066

By Andrea Toven

Luther Seminary, 2003

Introduction: St. Benedict’s monastery is a microcosm. It holds all types, all classes and all ages. Children, brought almost in infancy by their parents, ex-serfs, sons of the poor and noble, clerics and priests, the highly intelligent as well as the Goth pauper spiritu and those who will not or cannot read – all are there, and among them there is no distinction whatever save in the service of the altar.

This synopsis of the type of person who became a Benedictine monk reflects the welcoming attitude that St Benedict hoped to give to the rule for monastic living that now bears his name. It also reflects the variety of people who came into a life of monasticism in England during the Anglo-Saxon period of 597-1066. These people were drawn to the simple spiritual life formed by St Benedict of Nursia.

St Benedict of Nursia, father of the Benedictine rule, was born in 480. He spent his early monastic life as a hermit in a cave at Subiaco in Italy. He founded a house at Monte Cassino in 525. It was here that the Rule of St Benedict was first formulated. St Benedict died in 550.

The Rule of St Benedict divided the day into three parts – prayer, study, and manual labour. Prayer was the Opus Dei, offering prayer and praise in church. Study came through the Divine Lectio, sacred reading. Labour was required because “Idleness is the enemy of the soul, therefore let the brethren devote certain hours to work with their hands.”

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