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Whether to Allow Those Who Depart to Return, in the Rule of St Benedict

Whether to Allow Those Who Depart to Return, in the Rule of St Benedict

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1000

Shelfmark: Harley MS 5431

Item number: f.57r

Length: 22.8

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).

The Rule of St Benedict requires commitment to the community, but it is not inflexible. Chapter 29 concerns brothers or sisters who voluntarily leave the monastery and then wish to return. Benedict says to let them back in if they are worthy but only in the lowest position as a test of humility. The ingenious design of the large letter 'F' is typical of high-end late Anglo-Saxon manuscript decoration, with its leafy terminals and eagle head which serves as a joining element and provides a source for the lacertine interlace which weaves about the letter.

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