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'On the Types of Monks', in the Rule of St Benedict

'On the Types of Monks', in the Rule of St Benedict

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1000

Shelfmark: Harley MS 5431

Item number: f.15r

Length: 22.8

Width: 8.2

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).

The rule begins with a chapter describing the main types of monk: those living in communities and hermits (anchorites). Benedict wrote his rule for communities because he wanted it to be practical for the average layperson, the job qualifications for hermit being much stricter. After the title written in red capitals, the first lines are given deluxe treatment. They are in capital letters with a large first letter from which sprout animal heads and lively, whip-like interlace which turns into vines and curves into the three-pointed triquetra, a traditional pattern in Anglo-Saxon art. The colours are modest, however, respecting St Benedict's call for moderation and conservation of resources.

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