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On Zeal, in the Rule of St Benedict

On Zeal, in the Rule of St Benedict

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1000

Shelfmark: Harley MS 5431

Item number: f.105v

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). St Benedict's Rule lays out the daily practice of prayer and obedience, but in the last chapter requires that the practice come from a good zeal arising from love of God. The first letter 'S' is ingenious in its design, made of two tightly curving shapes which terminate in bird heads, arising from cuffs of acanthus forms. Lacertine interlace joins the two curves and terminates in leaf forms. The invention and variety seen in the decoration throughout the manuscript are typical of the finer late Anglo-Saxon manuscripts such as this one.

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