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Observance While Away, in the Rule of St Benedict

Observance While Away, in the Rule of St Benedict

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1000

Shelfmark: Harley MS 5431

Item number: f.79r

Length: 23

Width: 8.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

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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). St Benedict made provision in his rule for nearly every situation, as in this chapter, "on those who are working far from the oratory or who are on a journey." All brothers were bound to the schedule of prayer even if far from their chapel. The large first letter 'F' is 'built' of sections which weave together, embellished with animal heads and whip-like interlace which sprouts delicate leaf forms. The ends of the cross bars flare outward with classical leaf patterns set into them. The interior details of animal heads and leaves are skilfully drawn in red and black.

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