Monk’s lives, in words and a picture

There are two outstanding documents that define the life of a Benedictine monk in the abstract. Both are purely theoretical, in that they do not deal with any particular instance or event, but rather prescribe what should be. One of these documents consists of words, while the other is a drawing.

The first is the Rule of Benedict, the collection of rules written down by St. Benedict himself in the 6th century. The Rule comprises 73 different chapters (or rules, I suppose) that cover a wide range of topics. Benedict describes the proper amount of food and drink for monks, how to welcome guests, correction of the young,1.Boys who don’t understand how severe a punishment excommunication is “should either be punished by means of severe fasting or chastised with harsh beatings to cure them.” In case you were wondering. Rule 30. “The times for singing Alleluia,” and many other matters.

The Rule, as you may have gathered, is a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts that regulate monastic living. Part of detailing life in the monastery inevitably requires some description of different roles that need to be fulfilled, as well as the inevitably hierarchy that evolves whenever groups of people come together and organize themselves.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Boys who don’t understand how severe a punishment excommunication is “should either be punished by means of severe fasting or chastised with harsh beatings to cure them.” In case you were wondering. Rule 30.

Patient, heal thyself

Early medieval medicine was decidedly a mixed bag. On the one hand a decent practitioner could mend a broken bone, bind a nasty wound, and give you the best attention possible in the event of fever. There would be a decent chance your healer could rely on a book of herbal remedies from the ancient Greeks. Not too bad.

On the other hand, your healer was strictly bound by the medical theories of those same ancients, theories which began and ended with the infamous “humors” of the body. The herbal remedies had been copied many times over, usually by scribes who had never seen the plants being referenced. And indeed, those plants grew in the eastern Mediterranean, not northern Europe. Other medical ‘texts’ are filled with references to things like how to tell if a person is going to die via holding a tick from a black dog in the healer’s left hand.1.Peregrine Horden, What’s Wrong With Early Medieval Medicine?, Social History of Medicine, v.24, n.1, pp.5 – 25. Be sure not to miss the discussion of “vulture medicine.”

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Peregrine Horden, What’s Wrong With Early Medieval Medicine?, Social History of Medicine, v.24, n.1, pp.5 – 25. Be sure not to miss the discussion of “vulture medicine.”