Irregular Forms of Monasticism

Aside from these regularized forms of monasticism, there were an abundance of irregular forms.

Wandering hermits could be found almost anywhere. They acquired a reputation for troublemaking in some areas.

Unregulated asceticism often led to bizarre forms of competition.

Basil of Caesarea set up monastic communities in Asia Minor on the coenobitical model.

Greek Orthodox Icon of St. Symeon Stylite

The Desert Saints

As an Eastern phenomenon, it took some time for monasticism to make its way to the West. It came in the form of lives of the Desert Saints.

These models of Christian piety were picked up by hermits in Europe, who went to the hills and forests.

After agreeing to become superior of a monastery in need of reform, he resigned after several of the monks attempted to poison him.

St. Benedict Crucifixion fresco (detail) by Fra Angélico, 1442

The Abbey at Monte Cassino, Italy

Located about eighty miles south of Rome, the abbey was founded by St. Benedict about 529 at the site of a Roman temple to Apollo. The abbey was completely destroyed by bombing during World War II, but was rebuilt soon after.

The Abbey at Monte Cassino, Italy

Located about eighty miles south of Rome, the abbey was founded by St. Benedict about 529 at the site of a Roman temple to Apollo. The abbey was completely destroyed by bombing during World War II, but was rebuilt soon after.

The Desert Saints

As an Eastern phenomenon, it took some time for monasticism to make its way to the West. It came in the form of lives of the Desert Saints.

These models of Christian piety were picked up by hermits in Europe, who went to the hills and forests.

Monasteries of one sort or another sprang up. Benedict of Nursia (480 -543) came from a noble family in Rome, but soon became disillusioned by life in the big city.

Benedict became a hermit for three years, gaining a reputation as a holy man.

These monasteries were for laymen who wished to save their souls. The rule enjoined manual labor, prayer, obedience to the superior, and moderation.

Although at the time the Benedictine Rule was just one of many forms of Western monasticism, its subsequent adoption by the Carolingians would give it extraordinary preeminence.

Benedict began founding his own houses, establishing a rule, or constitution, based on other rules current at the time.

St. Benedict Crucifixion fresco (detail) by Fra Angélico, 1442

After agreeing to become superior of a monastery in need of reform, he resigned after several of the monks attempted to poison him.

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