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Prayers in Winter, in the Rule of St Benedict

Prayers in Winter, in the Rule of St Benedict

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1000

Shelfmark: Harley MS 5431

Item number: f.38v

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). Benedict's key to success was his moderation. In the schedule for the daily (and nightly) prayers for winter (November to Easter), he says that monks or nuns should rise for their first prayers at the eighth hour of the night, "so that they may sleep longer than half the night" and be fresh for prayer and study. The chapter begins with a beautifully drawn first letter 'H', its cross-bar formed with delicate interlace which sprouts tiny leaf forms at the ends and is touched with red. The upper and lower vertical strokes combine with interlace. Asceticism did not mean doing without beauty, but it meant moderation and conservation of resources.

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