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On Receiving a Brother Into the Community, in the Rule of St Benedict

On Receiving a Brother Into the Community, in the Rule of St Benedict

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1000

Shelfmark: Harley MS 5431

Item number: f.86v

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). Those desiring to become monks had first to undergo a period of testing. This chapter in the Rule details the process of initial harsh treatment, spiritual examination and familiarisation with the rule which formed the conditions for acceptance as a novitiate (monk or nun in training). The first letter 'D' of this chapter differs from others in the manuscript in that the animal head at its top hold tiny discs in their mouths, one having a dot in the centre, the other a cross, making it resemble a eucharistic host. An animal's body, with wings, forms the vertical stroke of the letter. The fine drawing and inventiveness are typical of late Anglo-Saxon manuscript art.

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