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The Weekly Reader, in the Rule of St Benedict

The Weekly Reader, in the Rule of St Benedict

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1000

Shelfmark: Harley MS 5431

Item number: f.65r

Length: 23

Width: 8.5

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).

Much of the day of a medieval monk or sister was filled with prayer or edifying reading, even during meals. This chapter concerns the weekly selection of a lector (reader), who was to read from the Bible or scriptural commentaries at each meal. When did the lector eat? Benedict says they can have a bite after communion to fortify them for the task but should dine with kitchen staff afterward. The chapter begins with a rhythmically swirling letter 'M' made up of two opposing arcs which are capped with beast and bird heads.

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