Nursery Rhymes

Medieval Monks

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Orders of Medieval Monks in the Middle Ages
The first Medieval monks adhered to the Benedictine Rule which was established by St. Benedict in 529AD. Different orders of Medieval monks were also established during the Middle Ages. The major orders  of Medieval monks were:

  • The Benedictine Monks - the Black Monk
  • The Cistercian Monks - the White monk

  • The Carthusian Monks - the Silent monks
  • The Dominican Monks
  • The Franciscan Monks
  • Augustine Monks, including the Gilbertines

Medieval Monks - the Tonsure
All Medieval monks were clean shaven. They were distinguished by their partly shaven hair called tonsures. Their hair was shaved except for a narrow strip round the head. Tonsures were a symbol of their renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem. A tonsure might also indicate that a monk had received clerical status.

Monks Clothes in the Middle Ages

Becoming MedievalMonks
Any man, rich or poor, noble or peasant could become a Medieval monk.  Every candidate for admission  to the order of the Benedictine monks took the vow of obedience. The postulancy usually lasted one month, the novitiate one year, at the end which simple vows were taken. The solemn vows of the Medieval monks were taken four years later. Having once joined he remained a monk for the rest of his life. The Medieval monks lived under strict discipline. They could not own any property; they could not go beyond the monastery walls without the abbot's consent; they could not even receive letters from home; and they were sent to bed early. A violation of the regulations by a Medieval monk brought punishment in the shape of private admonitions, exclusion from common prayer, and, in extreme cases, expulsion. Medieval ecclesiastic terms which related to becoming a monk:

  • Oblate - an oblate was a person given in childhood to a monastic community by his parents, to be brought up as a monk
  • Postulant - a postulant was a person seeking admission to a religious order
  • Novice - a novice was a member of a monastic community under training, who has not yet taken final vows

Why did people choose to become Medieval Monks
The life of a monk was hard so why did people choose to become Medieval monks? It was a commitment for life. The life of a Medieval monk appealed to many different kinds of people in the Middle Ages. The reasons for becoming a Medieval monk were as follows:

  • To devote their lives to serving God
  • To live a life in a secure retreat
  • To escape from a violent world
  • The lead a quiet and peaceful life

The Three Vows of the Medieval Monks
Different orders had different vows. The three vows of the Benedictine monks were:

  • The Vow of Poverty
  • The Vow of Chastity
  • The Vow of Obedience

The three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience were the basis of the rule of St. Benedict and the life of the Medieval monks.

MedievalMonks and the Monastery
Medieval Monks lived in a monastery. Each monastery formed an independent, self-supporting community which meant that the Medieval monks had no need of going beyond the limits of the monastery for anything. Monasteries gradually increased in wealth and numbers and some came to form enormous establishments, covering many acres and, within its massive walls, had the appearance of a fortified town. In the twelfth century four hundred and eighteen monasteries were founded in England; in the next century, only about a third as many. In the fourteenth, only twenty-three monasteries were founded in England.

Medieval Monastery

Sexual Practises of Medieval Monks - Breaking the Vows
The vow of chastity led to problems with the Medieval Monks of the Middle Ages. The strict rules applying to complete sexual abstinence led to some degenerate behaviour. Medieval monks were known to flout the rules of chastity and practise sexual perversions including sadism and masochism. There were cases where Medieval monks withheld absolution for sins as a weapon to force a woman to agree to his sexual requirements - such practises led to the emergence of the confessional. The practise of inflicting self-torture was widespread starting with simple self tortures such as wearing hair shirts, failing to wash and then harsher tortures involving self-flagellation. The vow of poverty was also disregarded by abbots of rich monasteries.  

Middle Ages Religion
Middle Ages Index

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