Manuscripts of the ‘Rule’ for monastic life drawn up by Benedict of Nursia (died c. 547) were known in England from at least the early eighth century. In the mid-tenth century, Church reformers in England began to promote the Rule, which required monks and nuns to be obedient, celibate and hardworking, to attend regular services and to spend time reading and studying.
All the English reformers seem to have upheld the Rule of Benedict. Bishop Æthelwold of Winchester (963–984), insisted that all members of the institutions he established should follow it, whereas Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury (959–988), seems to have governed monastic communities where only some members followed the Rule.
One of the monasteries that Dunstan reformed was St Augustine’s, Canterbury, where this narrow, finely decorated copy of the Rule of St Benedict was probably made. It shows the esteem in which the Rule was held: the opening of the text uses display capitals in alternating colours. Initials with foliate decoration, interlace and biting animal heads are found throughout the rest of the text.
In addition to the Rule, this manuscript contains material on the ecclesiastical calendar and timekeeping, as well as excerpts from continental legislation on ecclesiastical organisation.
The text of the Rule in this manuscript is the so-called ‘received text’, used in the Carolingian empire.