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c. 330 CE - c. 379 CE
Life of Basil Great, one of the founding fathers of the Eastern Christian Church and Byzantine Monasteries.
480 CE - 543 CE
Life of Saint Benedict of Nursia, founder of the Benedictine order and European monasticism.
Lindisfarne monastery in Northumbria is founded by the Irish missionary Aidan.
c. 700 CE - c. 715 CE
Lindisfarne Gospels created in Britain.
Traditional founding date of Mont-Saint-Michel, France.
c. 800 CE
The Book of Kells is produced in Ireland.
A decree by Byzantine emperor Basil I is the first recorded evidence of a monastery on Mount Athos.
The Benedictine monastery of Cluny Abbey in Burgundy France is founded.
The Great Lavra monastery on Mount Athos is founded by Saint Athanasios.
c. 1036 CE
The Benedictine Vallombrosa Abbey near Florence is founded.
The Cistercian order is founded.
Oct 1164 CE - Dec 1170 CE
Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, lives in exile in a monastery in France.
Henry VIII of England and Thomas Cromwell push a bill through Parliament which begins the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England and Wales.
Parliament passes an act to close all monasteries in England and Wales regardless of size.
Mar 1540 CE
Waltham Abbey in Essex is the last monastery to close in England.
A HISTORY OF MONASTERIES
One of the first Christian monasteries was founded in Egypt in the 4th century by St Pachomius. In Western Europe, early monasteries followed the pattern set by St Benedict of Nursia (c.480-c.550). About 525 Benedict founded a monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy. He drew up a ‘rule, which stated how monasteries should be run. Monks were expected to work as well to pray and be obedient.
Between the 6th century and the 11th century thousands of Benedictine monasteries were founded in Western Europe. The most famous was at Cluny.
Cluny was founded in 910 by William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine (Southwest France). It was dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. The abbey at Cluny received donations from rich men and by the 12th century, it had priories (‘daughter’ abbeys) across Europe. The first Cluniac priory in England was founded at Lewes in Sussex in 1077. However, from the mid-12th century, the abbey at Cluny declined in importance. Finally, in 1790 it was closed during the French Revolution.
Monasteries in The Middle Ages
Meanwhile, new orders of monks were founded. In 1084 in France St Bruno of Cologne founded a strict and austere order called the Carthusians. In 1098 St Robert of Molesme in France founded another strict order called the Cistercians. The Cistercians flourished as shepherds and wool traders.
In the 13th century, the friars were formed. (The word friar is derived from the French word for brother frere). Like monks, they took vows of poverty and obedience yet unlike monks they did not withdraw from the world. Instead, they went out to preach and to help the poor. There were four main orders of friars Augustinians, Franciscans (called grey friars because of their grey costumes), Dominicans or black friars, and Carmelites or white friars.
In the Middle Ages, monks and nuns gave food to the poor. They also ran the only hospitals where they tried to help the sick as best they could. They also provided hospitality for pilgrims and other travelers (although as time went by there were an increasing number of inns where you could pay to stay the night).
In a medieval monastery, there was an almonry where food or money was given to the poor, the refectory where the monks ate, the dormitory, infirmary, and the cloisters where the monks could take exercise. An almoner looked after the poor, the infirmarian looked after the sick and a hospitaller looked after visitors.
In England, the first monastery was founded by Augustine at Canterbury in 598. Many more monasteries followed. However, the English monasteries were devastated by the Viking raids of the 9th century. Yet Alfred the Great revived them.
In the Middle Ages, monasteries held vast estates but in the 16th century, Henry VIII dissolved them. In 1536 he dissolved monasteries with incomes of less than 200 pounds a year. The larger monasteries were dissolved in 1539-1540. Monasteries did not return to England until the late 18th century.
Through the centuries the monks and nuns did a great deal of good work. Most importantly after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the monasteries preserved learning. They collected books and copied them. Monasteries also provided schools.
Traditionally, AD 529 is considered to be the year in which St Benedict founded the monastery at Montecassino. He died and was buried there around 547. Some decades later, the monastery was destroyed and not rebuilt for a long time. The monastic community and the living tradition of Benedict seemed to have disappeared.
The Spreading of the Rule
However, copies of his Rule survived in Roman libraries. Around 594 Pope St Gregory the Great praised this Rule and its author, increasing the popularity of both. Next, the Rule is found in some monasteries in Southern Gaul (modern France) and elsewhere, normally used by the abbot together with rules written by other monastic fathers to help him to guide the community. In the early 8th century, monks from England proudly proclaim that they follow only the Rule of Benedict – the first genuine „Benedictines“. They popularize this rule further through their mission in continental Europe and eventually in 816/17 an important synod declares Benedict’s Rule binding for all monks. Throughout the Carolingian empire which covers modern France, Belgium, Holland Switzerland, Germany, parts of Italy and Austria, hundreds of monasteries of monks and nuns come now under the Rule of Benedict. Simultaneously, the observance of these monasteries is unified, even in areas where the Rule left details to the discretion of the abbot. In the Latin West, religious life is now mostly Benedictine. The monasteries become important centers of religious life, but also of political administration, of economic development and of learning, both theological and secular. Books are written and copied in the scriptoria (writing rooms) of the monasteries, and abbey schools train the clergy and the ruling elite. The monks dedicate themselves mainly to liturgical prayer, whose amount gradually increases. The monasteries own farms and sometimes whole villages, whose peasants sustain the monks with part of their produce. In the ninth century the papacy starts to protect some monasteries from the interference of noblemen and local bishops. Cluny in Burgundy, founded in 910, eventually establishes a huge family of monasteries under one abbot. In the 12 th century several hundred houses belonged to it.
Decays and Reforms
The wealth and social role of the monasteries attracts also criticism, and several reform movements try to return to simpler ways of life and a more original understanding of Benedict’s rule. The Cistercians have the greatest impact. Within a short period several hundred monasteries of „white monks“ are founded, established as a clearly defined order with an efficient organization that balances unifying elements like the general chapter of all abbots and clear common principles with local autonomy and supervision through visitations.
In 1215 and in 1336 the papacy attempts to give a similar structure to the remaining „black“ Benedictines, initially with little success. Meanwhile, life in Europe has shifted from the countryside to cities. Newer orders like the Franciscans and the Dominicans respond to the spiritual and intellectual desires of city dwellers. While Benedictines continue to be found all over Europe, they are no longer the main protagonists of religious life.
From the 15 th century onwards, monasteries try to protect themselves from the interference of secular or ecclesiastical lords by forming congregations. The most influential of these is the Congregation of Saint Justina in Italy, later called the Cassinese Congregation. It remains for many centuries a model which other Congregations copy. New forms of personal prayer and meditation are now introduced to the life of the monks, to complement the divine office and lectio . A new emphasis on the personal needs of the individual monk also leads to the introduction of cells, replacing the dormitories in use until then.
Turbulences and Rebirth
The so-called reformation in the 16 th century turns against religious and monastic life of any kind. Protestant sovereigns use theological justifications to suppress the monasteries and confiscate their property. Some abbots and monks are killed, others simply retire from monastic life, return to their families or accept parishes. In England, Northern Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia monastic life disappears.
In Catholic countries, however, Benedictine monasticism begins to flourish again. Benedictine abbeys are being rebuilt in the splendid baroque style, and many monasteries become centres of scholarship, culture and education. And for the first time Benedictine life goes beyond Europe when the first abbeys of the New World are established in Brazil.
In the 18 th century, new philosophical and political trends threaten monasticism. Faith comes under attack, and monasteries are seen as useless places of superstition and backwardness. In the decades after 1760, more than 95% of the monasteries in Europe are suppressed by governments or destroyed in the course of revolutions and wars. Churches are turned into factories, buildings are used as quarries, land and treasures or confiscated, books destroyed or sent to new national libraries.
But monasticism refuses to die. In the mid-19 th century, a romantic rediscovery of medieval Christianity and monastic life takes place. In several countries old monasteries are re-founded or new communities created. Monastic life changes: the communities can no longer depend on rich endowments. The monks now work for their upkeep. The abbots have ceased to be lords and live much closer with their brothers. These monasteries fulfil important roles in the church, running major seminaries and schools, sometimes parishes or foreign missions. Because the Benedictines are still without any central organization, Pope Leo XIII establishes a study house in Rome, and in 1893 creates the Benedictine Confederation with an Abbot Primate at its head. Benedictine scholars rediscover the liturgical life of the early church. They influence the Liturgical Movement which prepares the reforms of the Second Vatican Council:
Most communities start singing in the vernacular, no longer in Latin. And the distinction between priests and brothers disappears. Most monasteries continue to attract Christians who want to spend a quiet time in prayer, who seek spiritual advice or who simply want to live alongside the monks for a few days.
A Worldwide Family
In 2018 the Benedictine Confederation numbers around 7500 monks in 400 monasteries, belonging to 19 different Congregations, with regional differences, particular missions or specific spiritual traditions. Some 13000 nuns and sisters also belong to the order. The Benedictines work closely with the Cistercians and the Trappists, orders which also follow St Benedict’s Rule. This rule has proved to be a guide for countless souls during 15 centuries.
- Contemporary Monasticism
- The New Conspirators
- SCHOOL(S) FOR CONVERSION
- INHABITING THE CHURCH
- COMMUNITY OF THE TRANSFIGURATION
- NEW MONASTICISM:What It Has to Say to Today’s Church
- Downward Mobility in an Upscale World
- Celebrating the eight days of Easter
- Closing Prayer
- Jesus is Laid in the Sepulcher
- Jesus is Taken Down From the Cross
- Jesus Dies on the Cross
- Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
- Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
- Jesus Falls the Third Time
- Jesus Speaks to the Holy Women
- Jesus Falls A Second Time
- Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
- Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
- Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother
- Jesus Falls the First Time
- Jesus Carries His Cross
- Jesus Is Condemned To Death
- THEOLOGY OF THE ICON
- How Ikons Are Created – Gilding & Varnishing
"I believe you can look at solitude, community, and ministry as three disciplines by which we create space for God. If we create space in which God can act and speak, something surprising will happen. You and I are called to these disciplines if we want to be disciples."
"People should not worry as much about what they do but rather about what they are. If they and their ways are good, then their deeds are radiant. If you are righteous, then what you do will also be righteous. We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctify our works."
Meister Eckhart - Dominican theologian, writer and mystic.
Each of us is called to cultivate an inner garden in which the Divine Word may grow and flourish.
- St John of the Cross
"It is a fair trade and an equal exchange: to the extent that you depart from things, thus far, no more and no less, God enters into you with all that is his, as far as you have stripped yourself of yourself in all things. It is here that you should begin, whatever the cost, for it is here that you will find true peace, and nowhere else." Talks of Instruction
Meister Eckhart - Dominican theologian, writer and mystic.
Stability does not allow us to run away from where we are, who we are and what we are called to do in this moment. Stability forces us to stand our ground and fight the good fight right here, right now, and with all of the grace that God graciously offers us.
St. Benedict of Nursia,
The Organisation within a Monastery
Although early medieval monasteries were commonly very small houses lived in by small groups of monks, they rapidly developed to become some of the most impressive buildings in Medieval England built around communities of monks.
As monasteries grew in size, it was vital that the monastery remained disciplined to ensure efficiently while focusing on the worship of God. The writings of St Benedict on how best to run a medieval monastery were particularly influential, and in 530 AD he even created a rule book that stated the appropriate behaviour for monks with a focus on taking vows.
According to St Benedict, every monk should be required to take a vow of poverty and should live just as the poor did. This also meant dressing as though they had taken this vow, wearing only functional clothing that was warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Monks were also required to obey an abbot, take a vow of chastity and not marry, and should also live amongst other monks as part of a community. The books created by St Benedict were written in Latin, and as such this became the language in which monks would write.
The working day was commonly split into three parts: the working section where certain tasks should be performed, the studying sections where monks would have to read and learn, and the prayer section. This last part required monks to pray, listen to the abbot or read the bible. All sections of the day were thought to reflect St Benedict’s belief that monks should have a lifestyle that represented the simple essentials.
An abbot would take charge of the monastery, and on significant days such as Saints Days he would wear a hat very similar to a bishop’s mitre. An abbot would also carry a crozier to symbolise his authority.
Each medieval monastery would be blessed by a patron - wealthy men able to spare money to cover the construction costs. King Edward the Confessor, for example, contributed to the costs of building Westminster Abbey, while French kings were patrons of the abbey as it was built in St. Denis’ honour. Patrons were also expected to help protect the monastery if it was threatened by an intruder as monasteries frequently contained very valuable treasures.
As well as having patrons, individual monasteries would dedicate themselves to a saint. This name may they be reflected in the town in which the monastery resided, such as in St. Albans or Bury St. Edmunds.
Life inside the monastery
Each day in a monastery was very structured and revolved around prayer. Service times differed but most named the first service ‘Vigils’, and this would be held at 2am. The service that followed would take place at dawn and was known as ‘Matins’, although the timing for this would change with the seasons. ‘Prime’ was held at 6am, followed by ‘Tierce’ at 9am and ‘Sext’ at 12 noon. Monks would they pray at 3pm for ‘Nones’, at dusk for ‘Vespers’ and at nightfall for ‘Compline’.
The layout and facilities inside a medieval monastery was unique to England, with the size of the buildings far greater than the typical peasant home. Monks would be provided with dormitories where they could sleep, along with study areas in covered cloisters or a library. Larger monasteries also contained kitchens and benefited from flowing water and toilets. The church would always be the central point of the monastery, while a chapter house would be placed within its walls to provide a place for monks to hear a chapter of monastic rules each day.
Other than religious prayer and duties, monks also had other work to complete each day. This included working in the kitchen, tending to livestock, brewing beer - which was healthier than water - producing books, tending to guests or helping in the infirmary.
St Benedict also suggested that monks should look after the poor in a building known as an almonry. Inside the almonry, ‘almoners’ would feed the poor left over food and also tend to their feet if they were on a long pilgrimage. ‘Hostellers’ were responsible for looking after visitors with a higher social ranking, who would often provide the monastery with gifts of thanks. Although when King John stayed at the monastery in St. Albans for 10 days, he famously only left them 13 pence.
Some monasteries became very wealthy as a result of the gifts they received, and many also benefited from free labour from local peasants. These peasants felt they were more likely to get into Heaven if they helped the monks, which saved the monasteries a great deal of money each year.
Monasteries could even gather treasure over time, with some owning gold, silver and jewelled boxes containing religious relics. Examples of some of these treasures include the bones of saints, which Harold of Wessex would have had to swear on in front of William the Conqueror before the Battle of Hastings, or the clothing of saints. Glastonbury’s monastery in particular was thought to be one of the wealthiest in England during the Middle Ages.
General and Hellenic History Subjects
500CE: Medieval Europe - Clovis, founder of the Frankish state, conquers most of France and Belgium, converting his territories to Western Catholic Christianity. He founds the Merovingian dynasty and passes his kingdom on to his sons, who begin fighting one another for additional territory.
590CE: Medieval Europe - Pope Gregory, originally a Benedictine, creates a religious policy for western Europe by fusing the Roman papacy with Benedictine monasticism. He creates the Latin church, which serves to counteract the subordination of the Roman popes to Eastern emperors. As the fourth great "church father," St. Gregory the Great draws his theology from Ambrose of Milan, Jerome and Augustine of Hippo. His concepts of purgatory and penance widen the gulf between the Eastern and Western Churches. He reigns until his death in 604CE.
600CE: Medieval Europe - The early Middle Ages begin in 600CE and last until 1050CE.
610CE: Medieval Europe - Heraclius becomes Emperor in Constantinople as the Persian Empire is attempting the takeover of Byzantine civilization. For the sake of convenience, the rule of Heraclius generally marks the beginning of Byzantine history, though it can be argued that Byzantine civilization begins with Diocletian, Constantine or Justinian.
627CE: Medieval Europe - Persia is conquered by Byzantine forces. The Jerusalem cross is retrieved from the Persians, who stole the relic in 614CE. Heraclius reigns until his death in 641CE.
650CE: Medieval Europe - Arab forces conquer most of the Byzantine territories, formerly occupied by the Persians.
677CE: Medieval Europe - The Arabs attempt to conquer Constantinople but fail.
687CE: Medieval Europe - Pepin of Heristal, a Merovingian ruler, unites the Frankish territories and builds the center of his kingdom in Belgium and other Rhine regions. He is succeeded by his son, Charles Martel, who forms an alliance with the Church which helps the Merovingian Dynasty (and Christianity) to expand into Germany. Pepin the Short succeeds his father, Charles Martel, and strengthens the alliance between Benedictine missionaries and Frankish expansion.
700CE: Medieval Europe - Benedictine missionaries complete the conversion of England begun by St. Gregory the Great.
717CE: Medieval Europe - The Arabs attempt to conquer Constantinople for the second time. Byzantine Emperor Leo the Isaurian, who reigns until 741CE, counters the Arab attempt with "Greek Fire" (a liquid mixture of sulfur, naphtha and quicklime which is released from bronze tubes, situated on ships and on the walls of Constantinople) and great military strength. Leo defeats the Arab forces and reconquers most of Asia Minor. The territory of Asia Minor, together with Greece, becomes the seat of Byzantine civilization for several centuries.
735CE: Medieval Europe - Venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon Benedictine scholar, writes the History of the English Church and People in Latin, perhaps the best historical writing of medieval history.
740CE: Medieval Europe - The Iconoclastic movement is initiated by Byzantine Emperor Leo the Isaurian, but the movement flourishes under the reign of his son Constantine V who rules until 775CE. The Iconoclasts advocate doing away with paganistic icon worship (images of Christ or saints). For them, Christ cannot be manifested or conceived of through human art. The Iconoclast controversy ends in the ninth century when a new Byzantine spirituality recognizes that the contemplation of icons may help someone assend from the material to the immaterial.
750CE: Medieval Europe - The first great English epic poem, Beowulf, is written in Old English. The work is anonymous and untitled until 1805. It is a Christian poem that exemplifies early medieval society in England and shows roots in Old Testament Law.
750CE: Medieval Europe - Irish monks establish early-medieval art. The greatest surviving product of these monks is the Book of Kells, a Gospel book of decorative art.
751CE: Medieval Europe - St. Boniface anoints Pepin a divinely sanctioned king, and the Frankish monarchy is fused into the papal order. The western European empire, based on the alliance between the Frankish monarchy and the Latin Church, provides the image of Western cultural unity for Europeans, though it does not last long.
768CE: Medieval Europe - Pepin's son, Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne), succeeds his father and is one of the most important rulers of medieval history. In time, his empire, known as the Carolingian dynasty, includes the greater section of central Europe, northern Italy and central Italy in addition to realms already conquered by Frankish rule. Charlemagne's system of government divides the vast realm into different regions, ruled by local "counts" who are overseen by representatives of Charlemagne's own court. In addition, to aid expansion and administration of the kingdom, Charlemagne promotes, what is called later, the "Carolingian Renaissance." Prior to this revival of learning, practically the entire realm (with the exception of Benedictine England) is illiterate due to the decay of the Roman Empire. The director of the "renaissance" is Anglo-Saxon Benedictine Alcuin, who receives his learning from a student of Bede. Alcuin sets up schools, sees to the copying of classical Latin texts and develops a new handwriting.
800CE: Medieval Europe - On Christmas Day, Charlemagne is crowned emperor by the pope in Rome. This event indicates an autonomous Western culture based on Western Christianity and Latin linguistics. Charlemagne establishes schools in all bishoprics and monasteries under his control.
814CE: Medieval Europe - Charlemagne dies without leaving competent successors to continue the glory of the Carolingian dynasty. His sole surviving son, Louis the Pious, divides his inheritance between his own three sons, who engage in civil war. Charlemagne's united realm is invaded by Scandinavian Vikings, Hungarians and Muslims during these civil wars. The Carolingian Empire falls apart.
863 CE The Slavs begin to become Christian.After an invitation by Ratislav, the King of Great Moravia two Byzantine monks and brothers were sent to preach Christianity. Cyril and Methodius also created a new alphabet for the Slavs, thus begining their written tradition.Cyril and Methodius are considered Saints and most historians name them as Apostles of the Slavs
871CE: Medieval Europe - King Alfred the Great of England constructs a system of government and education which allows for the unification of smaller Anglo-Saxon states in the ninth and tenth centuries. Alfred is responsible for the codification of English law, public interest in local government and the reorganization of the army. He founds schools and promotes Anglo-Saxon literacy and the establishment of a national culture. Alfred dies in 899CE. His innovations are continued by his successors.
910CE: Medieval Europe - The Benedictine monastery of Cluny in Burgundy becomes a place of monastic reform. The two major innovations here are the direct subjection of monasteries to the pope -- avoiding secular, local and ecclesiastical powers -- and the building of "daughter monasteries" subordinate to the Cluniac "family," which grows to sixty-seven monasteries by 1049CE.
936CE: Medieval Europe - Otto the Great is crowned king in Germany and is responsible for Germany's strength through the latter part of the eleventh century. Otto establishes a pattern of resistance to political fragmentation and a close alliance with the Church.
955CE: Medieval Europe - John XII becomes pope at the age of eighteen and rules for nine years. His title as pope exemplifies the decline in value of the Church in the early-medieval period. Local lords establish control over churches and monasteries, and Church officials are often unqualified. The majority of priests are illiterate and live with concubines. The majority of popes, mostly sons of powerful Roman families, are corrupt or incompetent.
962CE: Medieval Europe - Otto the Great is named emperor in Rome after defeating the Hungarians. This provides Germany with the power to resist invasion. Following Otto are several competent and enthusiastic successors, who continue to shape a stable German government.
987CE: Medieval Europe - Hugh Capet replaces the last of the Carolingian monarchs in France. The Capetian dynasty rules until 1328. The Capetian dynasty is too weak in the beginning to have any influence on the unification of France.
1025CE: Medieval Europe - The Byzantine aristocracy gains control over the government and begins to limit the freedom of the peasantry, thereby beginning the destruction of the economic base of Byzantine civilization.
1046CE: Medieval Europe - German Emperor Henry III arrives in Italy and names a German monastic reformer as pope. The series of reforming popes that follow enacts decrees against simony and clerical marriage.
1049CE: Medieval Europe - The Cluniac monastic reform sparks interest in the reform of the clerical hierarchy.
1050CE: Medieval Europe - The period from 1050 to 1300 is generally considered the High Middle Ages. Western Europe rises as a great power with only China equaling it in political, economic and cultural flourishing. It also witnesses profound religious and intellectual change, including the organization of the papal monarchy.
1050-1200: Medieval Europe - The first agricultural revolution of Medieval Europe begins in 1050CE with a shift to the northern lands for cultivation, a period of improved climate from 700CE to 1200CE in western Europe, and the widespread use and perfection of new farming devices, some previously discovered by the Carolingians and the Romans. Technological innovations include the use of the heavy plow, the three-field system of crop rotation, the use of mills for processing cloth, brewing beer, crushing pulp for paper manufacture and many other advantages that before were not available, and the widespread use of iron and horses. With an increase in agricultural advancements, Western towns and trade grow exponentially and Western Europe returns to a money economy.
1054 CE The East West schism happens opening the road for the creation of the two major doctrines
of Christianity: Orthodoxy and Catholicism.There was always a disagreement in the interpretation of the scripts but the main reasons were Political(who rules whom) and cultural(Eastern and western cultural differences)
1059CE: Medieval Europe - The reforming popes, following from the acts of Henry III, issue a decree on papal elections which gives the cardinals sole right of appointing new popes. This decree allows papal elections to escape the whims of political leaders.
1066CE: Medieval Europe - William the Conqueror invades England and asserts his right to the English throne at the Battle of Hastings. The Norman Conquest fuses French and English cultures because William is both the King of England and the Duke of Normandy. The language of England evolves into Middle English with an English syntax and grammar and a heavily French vocabulary. French art and literature prevail over previous English art and literature, and the French language eventually becomes the language of the political realm. William achieves political stability in England with the introduction of the feudal system. The system progresses over the next two centuries into a national monarchy.
1071CE: Medieval Europe - The Seljuk Turks of Islam defeat the Byzantines at Manzikert in Asia Minor and reconquer most of the eastern Byzantine provinces.
1073CE: Medieval Europe - Gregory VII initiates a new conception of Church. According to Gregory, the Church is obligated to create "right order in the world," rather than withdraw from it. Gregory seeks to create a papal monarchy with power over the secular state and to establish ecclesiastical authority. Henry IV, the German king, resists this authority thereby inaugurating the "investiture controversy." Gregory excommunicates Henry IV in 1077CE. The Gregorian reform encourages the practice of Christian warfare in the pursuit of providing "right order in the world" and establishes religious enthusiasm in all of Christendom.
1079CE: Medieval Europe - Scholasticism emerges as an attempt to reconcile classical philosophy (primarily Aristotelean) with Christianity. Peter Abelard contributes to this movement with his great theological work,Sic et Non. He dies in 1142.
|Alexius Comnenus receives peter the Hermit.|
1095CE: Medieval Europe - The First Crusade is initiated when Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus requests help in reconquering the lost territory of Asia Minor. Western Europe sends enormous support to rescue Jerusalem from the control of Islam. Pope Urban II calls the crusade to strengthen the Gregorian papacy by bringing the Greek Orthodox Church under papal authority and by humiliating the German emperor Henry IV who had forced Urban to flee Italy.
1098CE: Medieval Europe - The crusaders of the First Crusade capture Antioch and most of Syria, killing the Turkish inhabitants. The oldest epic poem in French, The song of Roland, is written by an unknown author. The poem is set in northern Spain during the reign of Charlemagne and is based on the Roncesvalles massacre of Charlemagne's rearguard. It serves to establish the differing characteristics between Christianity and paganism. The death scene of Roland, devoted patriot of Charlemagne, is commonly considered one of the greatest scenes in all of world literature.
1099CE: Medieval Europe - The crusaders of the First Crusade capture Jerusalem, killing its Muslim inhabitants. The Crusaders divide their new territories into four principalities.
1100CE: Medieval Europe - Henry I, the son of William the Conqueror, institutes a system of representatives dedicated to travelling the country and administering justice. He dies in 1135CE. Around the same time, a new asceticism is sought for monks who wish to engage in contemplation and self-examination. Two new orders are created: the Carthusian and the Cistercian. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, leader of the Cistercians, establishes 343 monasteries by the time of his death. Accompanying the fervent worship of Christ Jesus during this period is the pronouncement of the Virgin Mary as a saint. This is the first time a woman is given central significance in the Christian religion.
1108CE: Medieval Europe - Louis VI, the first important Capetian king of France, banishes the "robber barons" from the Ile-de-France, which allows agriculture, trade and intellectual activity to flourish.
1122CE: Medieval Europe - A compromise is drawn between pope and emperor over the issue of investiture. At the Concordat of Worms (a German city), religious symbols, originally invested for prelates, are replaced with symbols of temporal rule. Prelates accept the emperor as their temporal overlord and are invested with the symbol that recognizes their right to rule. Following the issue of investiture, the successors of Gregory VII develop the canon law of the Church which provides the papacy with jurisdiction over the clergy, the rights of inheritance and the rights of widows and orphans. Because the papacy begins acting as a court of appeals, it is necessary that popes are trained as legal experts, rather than as monks.
1125CE: Medieval Europe - German princes abolish the hereditary claim to the throne and establish the right to elect new rulers.
1144CE: Medieval Europe - The Romanesque abbey church of St. Denis, a burial shrine for French saints and kings, is torn down and replaced with Gothic architecture. Gothic architecture is highlighted by pointed arches, rather than Roman arches, ribbed vaulting, flying buttresses and intricately wrought stained-glass depictions of stories from the Bible and everyday life.
1147-1149 CE - The Second Crusade was an effort by the west to respond to the pressure on the Holy lands by the new muslim enemy the Turks. The Germans and the French had suffered a lot to reach the Holy lands.The German army had to cross Hungary and the Byzantine empire.The Byzantine-German cautiousness lead to a series of small scale fights between them.The German army was anihilated by the Turks in Dorylaion in Asia Minor and its remains united with the French army which didn't provoke any problems.Disagreement and political strife ended the Crusade without even fighting one battle. The West became cautious with the Byzantines and a hatred started towards them culminating during the 4rth crusade.
1152CE: Medieval Europe - Frederick I of Germany entitles his realm the "Holy Roman Empire," in an attempt to bring prestige back to the German throne.
1155CE: Medieval Europe - A student of Peter Abelard, Peter Lombard, writes the Book of Sentences which answers fundamental questions of theology with passages from the Bible and various Christian thinkers. His book becomes a standard text in all universities by the thirteenth century.
1164CE: Medieval Europe - Henry II constructs the Constitutions of Clarendon in an attempt to regain power for the civil courts, which have been loosing authority to ecclesiastical ones. The archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, strongly resists the decision of Henry and a quarrel breaks out. Becket is murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. He is quickly made a martyr by the English public and is revered as the greatest saint of English history. The political result is the abandonment of Henry's court program. Aside from this event, Henry II is considered one of England's greatest kings due to his judicial reforms and legal innovations. His reforms establish a stable government which requires little, if any, attention of the king.
1165CE: Medieval Europe - Frenchman Chretien de Troyes is the first writer to condense the legendary Arthurian history, based on the Celtic hero King Arthur and his knights of chivalry, into what is known as the Arthurian Romances. Chretien is the first writer to put forth the idea of romantic love within marriage. The innovation of longer narrative poems is the earliest ancestor to the modern novel. The idea of chivalry, the literal meaning being "horsemanship," emerges about the time of the romances. Chivalry includes the defense of honor, combat in tournaments, and the virtues of generosity and reverence. The noble code of chivalry is accompanied with the improvement of noble life and the status of noblewomen.
1168CE: Medieval Europe - English scientist Robert Grosseteste translates Aristotle's Ethics and makes technological advances in optics, mathematics and astronomy. He dies in 1253CE.
1170CE: Medieval Europe - The first European windmill is developed.
1176CE: Medieval Europe - The German troops of Frederick I are defeated by the Italian Lombard League at Legnano.
1176 CE - The battle of Myriokefalon.Manuel Comnenos, one of the most gifted emperors of the Comnenian restoration of the Byzantine empire ended up staining his name with a critical point of the Byzantine deckline.The Turks defeated a Byzantine army whose purpose was to drive them away from Asia Minor. This was the last battle given for the fate of Asia Minor. Since then the Turks would advance and make it eventually their homeland calling it Turkey.
1180CE: Medieval Europe - Philip Augustus, Louis VI's grandson, assumes the title of monarch in France. He recaptures most of the western French territory, previously taken by William the Conqueror, from the English king, John. Philip installs royal officials in the conquered regions in order to win allegience to the king. Philip is one of the strongest founders of the modern French state.
1187CE: Medieval Europe - Muslims recapture Jerusalem, and the Third Crusade is ordered. It is led by German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, French King Philip Augustus and English King Richard the Lionhearted. It is not successful.
1189CE: Medieval Europe - Richard the Lionhearted, son of Henry II, assumes the English crown. He rules for ten years and is only present in the country a total of six months. His rule exemplifes the strength of the governmental foundations set up by Henry II. During Richard's absence, ministers take care of administration and help to raise taxes for the support of the crusades.
1198CE: Medieval Europe - Innocent III, the founder of the Papal State, is thirty-seven when he is elected pope. He is trained in canon law and theology. His primary concern of administration is the unification of all Christendom under the papal monarchy, including the right to interfere with the rule of kings. He is the organizer of the Fourth Crusade, ordered to recapture Jerusalem from Islam.
1200CE: Medieval Europe - The growth of lay education and the intellectual renaissance begin. Students start entering schools with no intention of becoming priests, and education is offered in European languages other than Latin. The rise in lay education causes a loss in Church control over education, the growth of literacy in the West and the transformation of cathedral schools into advanced liberal arts universities. Bologna and Paris are the distinguishing schools of the High Middle Ages.
1204CE: Medieval Europe - The crusaders of the Fourth Crusade capture Constantinople. The sack of Constantinople causes a firm Byzantine hatred of the West.
1204CE: Medieval Europe - King John of England loses Normandy and the surrounding area to the French king, Philip Augustus.
1206CE: Medieval Europe - St. Francis of Assisi, at the age of twently-five begins his twenty year allegiance to Christ Jesus until his death in 1226CE. He is the founder of the Franciscan order which seeks to imitate the life of Jesus by embracing poverty. St. Francis wins the support of Pope Innocent III.
1208CE: Medieval Europe - Innocent III calls for the Albigensian Crusade in order to destroy the heretical threat of the Albigensians.
1212CE: Medieval Europe - Spain reconquers the Iberian peninsula from the Muslims in the name of Christianity.
1214CE: Medieval Europe - A student of Grosseteste, Roger Bacon predicts the technological advancement of automobiles and airplanes and extends Grosseteste's observations in optics. Both thinkers advocate concrete sensory observation for the advancement of scientific thought, rather than abstract reasoning.
1215CE: Medieval Europe - Innocent III organizes the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome in order to discuss and define central dogmas of Christianity. It recognizes the necessity of the Eucharist and penance as sacraments for salvation. The Council exemplifies the power of the papacy over kings and Church. The Council also calls for the Fifth Crusade to be warred under papal guidance by sea. It is a failure. English barons write "The Magna Carta" (Great Charter) in order to cease John's demands of money from the English without the consent of the barons and to require that all men be judged by a jury of peers in public courts, rather than privately by the crown. The Magna Carta serves as a symbol of a limited government and a crown that is bound by the same laws as the public.
1216CE: Medieval Europe - The Dominican order is founded by St. Dominic of Spain and is authorized by Innocent III. Its purpose is to convert Muslims and Jews and to put an end to heresy. The Dominicans eventually become the main administrators of inquisitorial trials.
1223CE: Medieval Europe - Louis VIII, Philip Augustus' son, rules for three years and conquers most of southern France.
1225CE: Medieval Europe - Thomas Aquinas, the most influential Scholastic theologian, is teaching at the University of Paris. Aquinas believes in the contemplation of God through the natural order, though ultimate truths are revealed only by studying the revelations of the Bible. His two greatest works are the Summa contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologica, both of which attempt to found the Christian faith on rational principles. His philosophy emphasizes human reasoning, life in the material order and the individual's participation in personal salvation.
1226CE: Medieval Europe - Louis IX (St. Louis), son of Louis VIII, is one of the most loved monarchs of French history. He is canonized by the Church for his piety and reigns over a period of internal peace in France.
1228CE: Medieval Europe - Frederick II, leader of the Sixth Crusade, begins a diplomatic negotiation with Islam for control of Jerusalem. It is a success. However, because Frederick was excommunicated by the pope, he crowns himself king of Jerusalem.
1237CE: Medieval Europe - The Mongols, under the leadership of Batu, cross the Urals from Asia into Russia. Prior to the thirteenth century, Russia is ruled by westerners who found the Kievan state. During the thirteenth century Russia retreats from the West, partly due to the distance between Moscow and the rest of Europe.
1240CE: Medieval Europe - Mongols enter the state of Kiev and create a new state on the Volga River, from where they rule Russia for two centuries. Over these two centuries, the Grand Duchy of Moscow emerges and eventually defeats the Mongol Khans.
1242CE: Medieval Europe - St. Bonaventura enters the Franciscan order. He becomes the seventh general of that order within fifteen years. He is a professor of theology at the University of Paris, Bishop of Albano, made cardinal by Gregory X and is canonized by Sixtus IV. St. Bonaventura's major works are the Reductio Artium in Theologiam, the Biblia Pauperum and the Breviloquium. His thought is heavily influenced by an ancient Greek philosopher, Plotinus.
1244CE: Medieval Europe - Jerusalem is lost by the West and is not recaptured again until 1917 CE.
1250CE: Medieval Europe - The successors of Innocent III are involved in a political struggle with Frederick II, who attempts to take control in central Italy. They order a crusade against him, the first time a crusade is called for political reasons. The outcome is the death of Frederick.
1252CE: Medieval Europe - The papacy approves the use of torture for religious disobedience, following Innocent III's brutal "inquisitions" against heresy (namely the Waldensian and Albigensian heretics).
1260CE: Medieval Europe - Several texts are translated from their original languages into Latin, including the texts of Aristotle.
1261CE: Medieval Europe - The Byzantine Empire returns to Constantinople.
1265CE: Medieval Europe - Dante Alighieri is born. Later, he will write the Divine Comedy -- perhaps the greatest literary expression of the Middle Ages -- in Italian verse. Born in Florence, Dante is extensively educated in literature, philosophy and Scholastic theology. His "Comedy" is saturated with the belief of earthly immortality through worthy deeds and the preparation of life everlasting.
1267CE: Medieval Europe - Florentine Giotto, the most important painter of the later Middle Ages, begins the modern tradition in painting. He is a naturalist whose paintings include depictions of Christ's entrance into Jerusalem and the death of St. Francis.
1268CE: Medieval Europe - The military champion of the papacy's crusade against the heirs of Frederick II is Charles of Anjou, who is from the French royal house. Charles defeats the last of Frederick's heirs and wins Sicily.
1272CE: Medieval Europe - Edward I of England, Henry III's son, establishes Parliament, originally a feudal court for the king and not yet a system of representative government.
1280CE: Medieval Europe - Eyeglasses are invented and later improved in the late medieval period.
1282CE: Medieval Europe - Charles of Anjou's efforts to tax Sicily provokes the "Sicilian Vespers" revolt. The rebels install the king of Aragon as their own king, thereby reinstating rule to the house of Frederick II.
1285CE: Medieval Europe - France becomes the strongest power in Europe due to the administration of St. Louis' grandson, Philip IV. He attempts to gain full control over the French Church from Rome and begins the process of governmental centralization.
1294CE: Medieval Europe - Boniface VIII disputes with the kings of England and France over the taxation of the clergy for support of war. Later, Boniface will run into political problems with Philip IV of France.
1300CE: Medieval Europe - The Late Middle Ages begins here and ends around 1500CE. The beginning of the Late Middle Ages witnesses the invention of the magnetic compass, greatly aiding overseas expansion and enhancing trade between places such as Italy and the North. Boniface VIII calls the first papal "jubilee," thereby recognizing pilgrimages to Rome instead of Jerusalem, which is no longer accessible to the West.
1303CE: Medieval Europe - Boniface VIII is captured in Anagni by local citizens and is abused beyond his capabilities to sustain the mistreatment. He dies in his seventies a month after his release. After his death, the Church witnesses many institutional crises.
1305CE: Medieval Europe - The papacy is moved from Rome to Avignon, beginning the Church's "Babylonian Captivity." For most of the fourteenth century, the papacy is subordinate to French authority with the majority of cardinals and popes being French.
1315CE: Medieval Europe - Bad weather and crop failure result in famine across northwestern Europe. Unsanitary conditions and malnutrition increase the death rate. Even after the revival of agricultural conditions, weather disasters reappear. A mixture of war, famine and plague in the Late Middle Ages reduces the population by one-half.
1327CE: Medieval Europe - Born in 1260, German Dominican Master Eckhart defines the individual soul as a "spark" of the divine at its most basic element. By renouncing all knowledge of the self, one is able to retreat into that "spark" and reach God. Most of his teachings are condemned by the papacy. Two bands of mysticism arise from Eckhart's theories: heterodox, the belief in the unification of God and man on earth without the aid of priests as intermediaries, and orthodox, the belief in the possibility of joining the soul with God and the awareness of divine presence in everyday life.
1328CE: Medieval Europe - The last heir of the Capetian dynasty dies and is replaced by the first ruler of the Valois dynasty. Because the English kings are also descended from the Capetian line, England attempts to claim the French crown.
1330CE: Medieval Europe - Oxford theologian John Wyclif is born. He later becomes the leader of a heretical movement: finding the Church extravagant, he condemns most Church officials and begins a reform movement. He receives aristocratic support by advocating the replacement of officials with men willing to lead apostolic lives modeled on the New Testament. He dies in 1384, before the death penalty for heresy emerges in England. The use of heavy cannons in warfare begins.
1337CE: Medieval Europe - The French retaliate against the English and initiate the Hundred Years' War, a series of battles lasting until 1453CE. The three greatest battles of the war are fought at Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415). Due to the military superiority of the English, the French are defeated in most of the battles.
1340CE: Medieval Europe - Geoffrey Chaucer is born. He later begins the literary tradition with his Canterbury Tales.
1342CE: Medieval Europe - The reign of Avignonese Pope Clement VI exemplifies the French takeover of the Church. Clement offers spiritual benefits for money, appoints Church leaders for economic gains and commits sexual acts on "doctors' orders." The French Church based in Avignon rises in power, centralizes the Church government and establishes a system of papal finance.
1347CE: Medieval Europe - The Black Death appears during a time of economic depression in Western Europe and reoccurs frequently until the fifteenth century. The Black Death is a combination of bubonic and pneumonic plagues and has a major impact on social and economic conditions. Religious flagellation appears among lay groups in order to appease the divine wrath. English Franciscan William of Okcham dies. He teaches that God is free to do good and bad on earth as He wishes and developes the philosophical position known as "nominalism." His quest for certainty in human knowledge is one of the foundations of the scientific method.
1348CE: Medieval Europe - Italian Giovanni Boccaccio ( 1313- 1375CE) begins writing the Decameron, a collection of stories about love, sex, adventure and trickery told by seven ladies and three men on a journey into the country to escape the Black Death. Boccaccio's work is the first literature written in narrative prose. His prose is realistic of the men and women in the stories, rather than blatantly moral or immoral as in the earlier romances.
1356CE: Medieval Europe - A war begins between the English and the French directly following an occurrence of the Black Death in France. French peasants suffer the most economically, as is usual in medieval times during war, and physically -- their homes are pillaged and burned. The English defeat the French king, John II, at the Battle of Poitiers, and the peasants again are asked to bear the weight of the upper class.
1358CE: Medieval Europe - Economic hardship in France results in an uprising of the lower-class, called the "Jacquerie" (taken from the French peasant "Jacques Bonhomme"). The peasants burn castles, murder and rape their lords and lords' wives and take advantage of the political confusion in France by attempting to reform the governmental system. The revolt occurs during the king's captivity in England. Also, during this time, an aristocratic group plans the takeover of power. A brief revolt is put to an end when this group restores order by the massacre of the rebels.
1360CE: Medieval Europe - With the introduction of oil painting into western Europe, the earliest naturalistic painting is created. Its subject is the French king, John the Good. After this, naturalistic portraitures become prominent in European art.
1367CE: Medieval Europe - Urban V is successful in returning the pope to Rome. However, Pope Gregory XI dies in 1368. Because the papacy is now in Rome, an Italian pope, Urban VI, is elected and begins quarreling with the French cardinals. The French cardinals cancel the previous election and elect a French pope, Clement VII.
1378CE: Medieval Europe - The second phase of the Church's institutional crisis is the Great Schism. The French papacy leaves Rome due to the uprising of Urban VI and his group of newly founded cardinals. The split of the two groups causes confusion in Europe. French territories recognize Clement VII as pope, and the rest of Europe recognizes Urban VI as pope. The schism survives the death of both popes. The Florentine Ciompi, wool-combers, witnessing a depressed industry, rise against the governmental system and gain power for six weeks, in which time they institute tax relief, provide a proletarian representation in government and expand employment. All reforms are revoked with the new oligarchic power.
1381CE: Medieval Europe - The presence of the Black Death in England works to the advantage of English peasants, causing a shortage of labor, a freeing of serfs, a rise in salary and a decrease in rent. The aristocratic class, however, passes legislation that lowers wages to the amount before the plague and that requires lower wages for laborers without land. The peasants rise against this oppression in what is called the English Peasants' Revolt when a national tax is levied for every individual in England. The peasants march into London, murder the lord chancellor and treasurer and are met by Richard II. Richard promises the abolition of serfdom and a lower of rent. After the peasants leave, Richard has the peasant groups followed and murdered.
1399CE: Medieval Europe - In England, the death penalty becomes the punishment for heresy, and many Lollards, Wyclif's lay followers, convert.
1409CE: Medieval Europe - A council of prelates from both sides of the Great Schism meet at Pisa and decide to rename a new pope in place of the two. However, both popes enjoy great political power and refuse the deposition, causing three rivals to the papacy instead of two.
|council of Constance|
|Philip the good-Duke of Burgundy 1396-1467|
1420CE: Medieval Europe - Hus' supporters defeat German "crusaders." The lower-class Hussites are led by general John Zizka.
1429CE: Medieval Europe - Joan of Arc, a peasant girl in France, seeks out the French leader and relates her divinely-inspired mission to drive the English out of France. She takes control of the French troops and liberates most of central France.
|Joan of Arc|
1434CE: Medieval Europe - Aristocratic Hussites end the revolt of Hus' supporters and their attempts of social and religious reform. Bohemia does not return to Catholic Orthodoxy until the Catholic Reformation of the seventeenth century.
1434CE: Medieval Europe - The Medici banking family dominates the government of Florence.
|The last emperor of Byzantium fought and died at the siege Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453|
1453CE: Medieval Europe - Ottoman Turks take Constantinople and end Byzantine civilization. The French king Charles VII captures Bordeaux in the southwest and ends the Hundred Years' War, during the reign of English King Henry VI and after the withdrawal of Burgandy from English alliance. The French monarchy reestablishes rule and returns to collecting national taxes and maintaining a standing army in times of peace. The monarchy becomes even stronger during the reigns of Louis XI ( 1461- 1483) and Louis XII ( 1498- 1515).
1454CE: Medieval Europe - Italy is divided into five major regions: Venice, Milan, Florence, the Papal States and the southern kingdom of Naples.
1455CE: Medieval Europe - Henry VI of England ( 1422- 1461) wages the Wars of the Roses. The two sides of the war are the red rose (Henry's family at Lancaster) and the white rose (the house of York). Yorkist Richard III gains the kingship for a short time.
|marriage of Ivan III and Sophia Palaiologina|
1462CE: Medieval Europe - Ivan III of Moscow annexes all Russian principalities between Moscow and Poland-Lithuania over a period of twenty-three years.
1469CE: Medieval Europe - Ferdinand of Aragon marries Isabella of Castile, and the two Spanish kingdoms end their conflicts but remain separate powers.
1477CE: Medieval Europe - Charles the Bold of Burgundy is captured by the Swiss, and Louis XI recaptures the lost territory.
1482CE: Medieval Europe - Ivan III of Moscow ( 1462- 1505CE) renounces the Mongol Khanate rule over Russia. The Mongols do not resist in the light of the rise of the Moscow state.
1485CE: Medieval Europe - With the end of the Wars of the Roses in England, the Tudor dynasty replaces Richard III. Henry VII, the first Tudor king, rules for twenty-four years and revives the English throne. He reestablishes royal power over the aristocracy, ends funding of foreign wars and reforms finances. Parliament also becomes a stable part of the governmental system.
1492CE: Medieval Europe - Ferdinand and Isabella annex Granada, expel all Jews from Spain and seek overseas expansion (for example, as patrons of Christopher Columbus). The flow of American gold and silver through Spain, the conquest of Mexico and Peru and superiority on the battlefield make Spain the most powerful state in Europe.
1505CE: Medieval Europe - Ivan the Great of Moscow extends the Russian border into the Byelorussian and the Ukrainian territories, before his death. Muscovian Russia is recognized as a major Eastern-oriented power in Europe.
1509CE: Medieval Europe - Henry VIII succeeds his father, Henry VII, for the English crown.
Medieval monasteries in England
Open a new browser window with a map of a medieval monastery.
Early monasteries originated in Egypt as places where wandering hermits gathered. These early "monks" lived alone, but met in a common chapel. By the fifth century, the monastic movement had spread to Ireland, where St. Patrick, the son of a Roman official, set out to convert the Irish to Christianity.
The Irish monks spread Christianity into Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland. St. Ninian established a monastery at Whithorn in Scotland about 400 AD, and he was followed by St. Columba (Iona), and St. Aidan, who founded a monastery at Lindisfarne in Northumbria.
These Celtic monasteries were often built on isolated islands, as the lifestyle of the Celtic monks was one of solitary contemplation. There are no good remains of these early monasteries in Britain today.
The Benedictine Rule
The big change in this early monastic existence came with the establishment of the "Benedictine Rule" in about AD 529. The vision of St Benedict was a community of people living and working in prayer and isolation from the outside world. The Benedictine Rule was brought to the British Isles with St Augustine when he landed in Kent in AD 597.
The Different Orders
Over the next thousand years, a wide variety of orders of monks and nuns established communities throughout the British Isles.
These orders differed mainly in the details of their religious observation and how strictly they applied those rules. The major orders that established monastic settlements in Britain were the Benedictines, Cistercians, Cluniacs, Augustinians, Premonstratians, and the Carthusians.
The first buildings of a monastic settlement were built of wood, then gradually rebuilt in stone. The first priority for rebuilding in stone was the chancel of the church. This way of proceeding meant that the rest of the monastery was at risk of fire, which accounts for the fact that many of the monastic remains you can visit today are in the later Gothic style of architecture.
Although the details of daily life differed from one order to the next (as mentioned above), monastic life was generally one of hard physical work, scholarship and prayer. Some orders encouraged the presence of "lay brothers", monks who did most of the physical labour in the fields and workshops of the monastery so that the full-fledged monks could concentrate on prayer and learning.
A Monk's Life
For an enjoyable look at the life of a medieval monk, read any of the excellent "Brother Cadfael" mysteries, by Ellis Peters.
The Daily Grind
The day of a monk or nun, in theory at least, was regulated by regular prayer services in the abbey church. These services took place every three hours, day and night. When the services were over, monks would be occupied with all the tasks associated with maintaining a self-sustaining community
Abbeys grew their own food, did all their own building, and in some cases, grew quite prosperous doing so. Fountains Abbey and Rievaulx, both in Yorkshire, grew to be enormously wealthy, largely on the basis of raising sheep and selling the wool.
Throughout the Dark Ages and the Medieval period, the monasteries were practically the only repository of scholarship and learning. The monks were by far the best-educated members of society - often they were the only educated members of society. Monasteries acted as libraries for ancient manuscripts, and many monks were occupied with laboriously copying sacred texts (generally in a room called the scriptorium).
In the areas where Celtic influence was strongest, for example in Northumbria, the monks created "illuminated" manuscripts beautifully illustrated Bibles and prayer books with painstakingly created images on most pages.
These illuminated manuscripts, such as the Lindisfarne Gospel (now in the British Museum), are among the most precious remnants of early Christian Britain.
The Abbey Hierarchy
The abbey (the term for a monastery or nunnery) was under the authority of an abbot or abbess. The abbot could be a landless noble, who used the church as a means of social advancement. Under the abbot was the prior/prioress, who ran the monastery in the absence of the abbot, who might have to travel on church business. There could also be a sub-prior. Other officers included the cellerar (in charge of food storage and preparation), and specialists in the care of the sick, building, farming, masonry, and education.
One of the main sources of revenue for monasteries throughout the medieval period were pilgrims. Pilgrims could be induced to come to a monastic house by a number of means, the most common being a religious relic owned by the abbey. Such a relic might be a saint's bone, the blood of Christ, a fragment of the cross, or other similar religious artefacts. The tomb of a particularly saintly person could also become a target for pilgrimages.
Pilgrims could generally be induced to buy an insignia which proved they had visited a particular shrine. Some popular pilgrimage centres built hotels to lodge pilgrims. The George Inn in Glastonbury is one such hotel, built to take the large number of pilgrims flocking to Glastonbury Abbey.
The decline of the monasteries
Monasteries were most numerous in Britain during the early 14th century, when there were as many as 500 different houses. The Black Death of 1348 dealt the monasteries a major blow, decimating the number of monks and nuns, and most never fully recovered.
When Henry VIII engineered his break with Rome in the 1530s, the rich monastic houses were one of his first targets. A few of the abbey churches near large centres of population survived as cathedrals or parish churches (for example Canterbury Cathedral, Durham Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey), but those that were isolated, including almost all the Cistercian monasteries, were demolished. Throughout the Tudor and later periods these shells of buildings were used by local people as a source of building material.
What to See:
There are numerous good abbey remains in Britain today Some of the best are:
Which plants were harvested in medieval gardens ?
Early medieval gardens around the castle contained, among other things, turnip cabbage (kohlrabi), cucumber, hemp, flax, amaranth, lentil, dill, garlic, celery, cabbage, chickpea, carrot, pea, coriander, also parsley, mustard, corn salad (Valerianella locusta), centaury (Centaurium erythraea), purslane, henbane, parsnip, dyer’s chamomile, spurge, Stachys arvensis, Physalis, horse bean (vicia faba) and opium poppy (Papaver somniferum)and there was also a varied horticultural orchard around the castle. Peas and flax must be added to the field crop that spread in the late Middle Ages. Corn salad was not produced by cultivation, this was a wild plant which was collected. Dill, cabbage (cabbage), coriander, fennel, parsley and mustard were all considered as garden plants. Fennel and anise were used in the late Middle Ages for bad breath, besides of course as a vegetable. Myrica gale were used for beer brewing.
More often, however, hops were used for brewing, whereas in Denmark there were mostly common beers made from myrica gale. However, myrica gale or gagel over time proved to be extremely harmful for health and was finally forbidden in the 18th century. In contrast to the monastery and castle gardens, its very little known about the garden of the rural farms in the Middle Ages.
Example of the medieval garden. Photo by: Francois Berraldacci, The English Garden
It is questionable whether the monastery and castle gardens can be transferred as models to all other gardens in European medieval cities and villages. All in all, a rural horticulture in the Merovingian period is proven beyond doubt. If there was enough space in gardens people were also planted: grapevines, laurel tree, chestnut, olive tree, plum tree, pear tree. On the medieval manuscript there was name for vegetables as “crumelum” and “legumen”, which probably meant legumes. Furthermore, name referrer in historical sources as “holus” or “olus” probably means cabbage. In addition to chickpeas, people cultivated herbs such as “herbe agrestis”, “herba odorans”, saffron and onions. Since the 10th century, the medieval garden is visibly enriched with new species of plants, particularly decorative. The flowers were rose, lily and the violet, which could also be a wild violet. Roman knowledge and practices of horticulture is very often used by Merovingians. The peasant gardens were usually located in those parts of the yard that immediately adjoined the rear of the farmhouse. Unlike the castle gardens, village gardens were usually open without fences.
The Overlooked Queer History of Medieval Christianity
T oday, it would be easy to assume that same-gender desire, particularly among men, is at odds with the history of Christianity. After all, many elements of modern conservative evangelical Christianity, from the infamous campaigns of the Westboro Baptist Church to faith-based pushes for anti-LGBTQ policy, give the impression that the religion is fundamentally opposed to the LGBTQ community.
The division, however, is not as rigid as one might imagine. Historical evidence speaks to a rich tradition of continuity in literature, philosophy and culture that runs from antiquity all the way to medieval Christianity, where same-gender intimacies were able to flourish.
In fact, we can find across the medieval world the potent glimmers of queer community and the role it played in formulating a language for Christian subjects as marginalized and persecuted peoples. Many stories of how queer figures maneuvered across various secular and religious spaces of the medieval world share a jaw-dropping candidness about same-gender intimacies and sexuality, and can provide important evidence about how medieval writers thought about the intersections of gender and sexual desire.
While same-gender relations were not accepted within medieval Christianity the way they are by many today, they also did not elicit the intense disdain that we find within the modern Christian right. Despite evidence of great diversity in sexual practices, same-gender intimacies hardly are the focus of concern for most early-Christian and medieval writers. In fact, prohibitions against same-gender intercourse happened selectively, often motivated by political factors more so than religious ones. For example, in the sixth-century, Emperor Justinian&rsquos historian, Prokopios, tells us that Justinian passed legislation against same-sex relations only so that he could persecute certain political enemies whose sexual histories were known to him.
In addition, across the medieval Mediterranean, we find a series of saints&rsquo lives that tell the stories of individuals who had been assigned female at birth, but became monks in all-male monastic communities. In the story of Saint Eugenia, who briefly lived her life as the male monk Eugenios, the saint is sexually harassed by a woman by the name of Melania. The text is quite clear that Melania is drawn to the monk&rsquos male appearance. This story is important, because it demonstrates to us the need to treat these monks as men and not to misgender them as women. Rich and complex in their own right, these figures allowed medieval authors to tackle difficult questions about community, gender, sexuality and piety.
Since authors did not always know how to grasp and interpret their protagonist&rsquos gender, the stories expose to us the ways in which sexual desire between men manifested itself in religious communities. In the story of the fifth-century saint Smaragdos, the young, beardless monk arrives at the monastery, where he is isolated by the Abbot and placed in a separate cell. The author tells us that he was placed here so that he could not be seen by his brothers, lest he cause them to stumble because of his emerald-like beauty.
We might surmise that the narrator is able to write with such frankness about same-gender desire precisely because the conceit is that this monk, assigned female at birth, is a woman (in some capacity) in his mind. But a familiarity with these texts and a sensitivity to the languages in which they were originally written shows a much more complex reality to this separation and prohibition.
The Abbot is never confused as to how or why a young monk might sexually arouse his fellow monks, nor is there any concern or question of his gender. A similar awareness of same-gender desire in monasteries is evident across a wide spread of early Christian and medieval authors. For example, in Cyril of Scythopolis&rsquo Life of the fifth-century Palestinian monastic founder Euthymios, the monk asks his followers to &ldquotake care not to let your youngest brother come near my cell, for because of the warfare of the enemy it is not right for a feminine face to be found in the [monastery].&rdquo And such prohibition against &ldquofeminine faces&rdquo or &ldquobeardless men&rdquo are found across the rules written to regulate monastic life. Likewise, in his mid-seventh century Heavenly Ladder, John Klimachos praises monks who are particularly adept at stirring up animosity between two others who have &ldquodeveloped a lustful state for one another.&rdquo
Yet, despite discomfort about sexual intimacies stirred up within the cloisters, the perceived problem always comes down to the fact that these men are committed to celibacy, not that they are men. This same-gender sexual activity is treated with less concern than instances of monks who are accused of having sex with women outside the monastery. While relations between monks are courteously dissolved and handled internally, intercourse with women often leads to a monk&rsquos expulsion from the community.
In a surprising and telling instance, the seventh-century theologian Maximos the Confessor reflects on what it is that binds communities together, stating that it is &ldquosensual affection&rdquo and &ldquodesires&rdquo (erota) that causes creatures to flock as one. It is from this &ldquoerotic faculty&rdquo that animals flock together, being drawn &ldquotoward a partner of the same kind as one.&rdquo Here, his description of conviviality builds on a language of intimacies between similars, providing ample metaphors in Greek for the filiations between men in monastic communities and other social groups.
But, institutionalized spaces for same-gender intimacies were not unique to the monastic world in the Middle Ages. For example, the rite of spiritual brotherhood or adelphopoiēsis (literally, &ldquobrother-making&rdquo) bound two men in a spiritual brotherhood, echoing certain elements of the marriage rite. The process has been controversially heralded by the late Yale historian John Boswell as a medieval &ldquosame-sex union.&rdquo We are even told that these spiritual brothers would share the same bed and live closely bound lives.
While scholars over the years have added a great deal of nuance to Boswell&rsquos initial argument, they have also strongly attempted to deny any form of same-gender desire behind the rite. An unpublished manuscript at the Vatican Library, however, tells a very different story. In this text, which can only be consulted in its original handwritten medieval Greek, the 13th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Athanasius I, writing centuries after the inception of the rite, condemns it because it allegedly &ldquobrings about coitus and depravity.&rdquo In this later period, we see a newfound homophobic resistance to the rite that, in the reaction&rsquos vitriol, speaks to the role this rite could really play for men committing themselves to each other: The Patriarch&rsquos words acknowledge the reality that no matter its intention, the rite enabled the space for sexual intimacies between men. That the &ldquobrother-making&rdquo rite possibly allowed room to maneuver for premodern queer men, long before that term ever existed, is critical to the history of Christianity.
Narratives like these push us to understand the ways in which intimacies between men existed in various aspects of religious life, even between monks. These relations may not have always been prized or embraced, but they also did not receive the hatred and intensity of vitriol they find in radicalized Christianity today. In fact, the evidence we have suggests that in the privacy of monastic communities and rites like adelphopoiēsis, queer figures had ample room to exist in loving relationships, far beyond what the archive has been able to preserve.
Our written sources point obliquely to the existence of these relations, but detailed stories of these intimacies are left only as an imprint, an outline in the sand of lives now lost that have been forgotten by history. As historians, our role is not simply to regurgitate what was written, but to read between the lines. That&rsquos the only way we&rsquoll unearth the realities of subjects whose lives were either shielded by secrecy or erased, often on purpose, by the history that followed.