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Those Who Are Late, in the Rule of St Benedict

Those Who Are Late, in the Rule of St Benedict

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1000

Shelfmark: Harley MS 5431

Item number: f.70v

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).

Obedience is one of the keys to the success of a monastery, and the Rule emphasises it accordingly. Promptness is required, and the tardy find life gets tougher for them. In this chapter, Benedict details how those who arrive late are to be treated, but he also cuts a little slack. The first psalm of the night prayers (92) is desirably said slowly so that all may arrive before the deadline verse, 'Glory be to the Father'. The splendid first letter 'A' with its lively curves and multiple four animal heads could be seen as inspiration to 'get moving'.

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