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On Weightier Faults, in the Rule of St Benedict

On Weightier Faults, in the Rule of St Benedict

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1000

Shelfmark: Harley MS 5431

Item number: f.54v

Length: 23

Width: 8

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Written in the 5th century by Benedict of Nursia, the Rule of St Benedict became the most widely accepted manual for religious communities in western Europe. It was written to guide communities of monks and nuns in a life of reasonable asceticism, establish a daily framework of prayer and outline spiritual goals. The early Anglo-Saxon monasteries were becoming familiar with Benedict's rule, but not until after the disruptions of the Viking invasions and subsequent reform of monasteries in the 10th century was it uniformly in place. This manuscript copy was made at St Augustine's, Canterbury, at the end of the 10th century when monasteries had begun to follow St Benedict. A chapter of his rule would have been read aloud from this manuscript each day after early morning prayers (called 'prime', at about 6 am). Violation of the rules of behaviour was taken very seriously. Chapter 25, 'On Weightier Faults,' prescribes that a brother who has committed a graver sin or disobedience be 'excommunicated' by exclusion from all activity, conversation, company, prayers and blessings. The chapter begins with a large first letter decorated with an eagle-like head and another animal head which acts as a clamp holding the double strokes of the letter together. Use of animal heads as joining and capping elements is typical of the design of this manuscript's decorated letters and occurs in other contemporary Anglo-Saxon manuscripts.

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