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What To Do When Away Briefly, in the Rule of St Benedict

What To Do When Away Briefly, in the Rule of St Benedict

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1000

Shelfmark: Harley MS 5431

Item number: f.79v

Length: 23

Width: 8

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

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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).

Part of the Rule's adaptability is that it allows travel from the monastery as necessary, but it lays down guidelines for such situations. It is alright if a brother must pop out to, say, the local wheelwright for a few hours, but he must not eat while away, even if invited, as stated on this page. The second section on the page concerns the proper use of the oratory. The beginning of each chapter in the manuscript is marked with large first letters, decorated with cord-like interlace, classical leaf designs and animal heads that grip the letters with their jaws, acting as clamps to hold the curving strokes together.

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