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Early Christianity


Doctrines The Benedictines follow the rule of Benedict of Nursia, the founder of western monasticism. The rule of Benedict requires monks to give up all personal possessions, to be celibate, to remain in the same monastery for life, and to offer complete obedience to the abbot, the head of the monastery.

History The movement was founded by Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480-ca. 550). At the age of fifteen Benedict adopted the life of a hermit, living in a cave in the wilderness of Subiaco, some forty miles from Rome. Such was Benedict's reputation for saintliness that a community of followers grew around him. This community provided the basis of a monastic order that established itself at Monte Cassino, which is located between Rome and Naples.
The community at Monte Cassino continued until 581 when the monastery was destroyed by the Lombards and the monks forced to migrate to Rome. In the 7th century the Benedictine rule was introduced into France, England and Ireland. The following century Monte Cassino was rebuilt and a new community organised around the monastery.
From the 10th century a reform movement set in around the monastery of Cluny in France which was designed to enable monks and nuns to be free from manual work and to have more time to worship and to intercede for society. Between the 10th and 11th centuries so many Benedictine houses adopted the Cluniac reforms that Cluny became the centre of Christian monastic life in Europe. This period coincided with the emergence of the feudal system, which placed monasteries under the power of an outside authority such as a king or secular lord to whom the monks owed military service. The subsequent spiritual decline in monastic life led certain groups to found new orders, such as the Cistercians and Carmelites, with the intention of revivifying monasticism. During the Reformation the monasteries in England and Scandinavia were dissolved, and the wars of religion destroyed many monasteries in France and southern Germany.
The 17th century saw the restoration of Benedictine congregations in England and France. However, the anti-religious trends of the 18th century once again threatened European monasticism. The French revolution of 1789, the re-emergence of the Napoleon empire, and the rule of Joseph II of Austria led to the secularisation or destruction of Benedictine houses. Since then the order has gradually recovered, with new Benedictine communities established in England and the United States.

Symbols Benedictine churches and monasteries contain devotional pictures of St Bernard wearing the black habit of the Benedictines. He holds an asperse, or rod to sprinkle holy water, symbolising the purity by which he conquered the temptations of the devil and the world. Some pictures depict Benedict's sister, St Scholastica. Sometimes she is standing alone holding a lily to symbolise her purity. At other times she is standing with a dove at her feet or held to her breast as a sign of her gentleness.

Adherents Today there are twenty-one Benedictine congregations. There are 9,500 Benedictine monks and 20,000 nuns (Guardian newspaper 7 October 1995, 11).

Main Centre
 The principal Benedictine monastery is located at Monte Cassino which is located between Rome and Naples.