Prologue, in the Rule of St Benedict
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
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 prologue which begins, "Listen, o my son, to the precepts of thy master." Given deluxe treatment, the lines of writing are in capital letters and alternating colours. The first two letters, 'Ob' are transformed with a lively menagerie of bird and beast heads, some of them holding together with their mouths the penstrokes of the curving letters and lacertine interlace. They and the classically inspired leaves which sprout symmetrically over the design are typical of late 10th-century Anglo-Saxon manuscript art. The inscription at the top of the page is much later, identifying it as a copy of the Rule of St Benedict.