The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to 1250

By Colin Morris | Go to book overview

3
MONASTIC GROWTH AND CHANGE

At a time therefore when there were no establishments for monks except in the oldest monasteries, new structures were begun everywhere . . . In villages and towns, cities and castles, and even in the very woods and fields, there suddenly appeared swarms of monks spreading in every direction and busily engaged, and places in which there had been lairs of wild beasts and caves of robbers resounded with the name of God and the veneration of the saints.1

The truth of this contemporary description is confirmed by a great abundance of evidence. At no other period in the history of the church has there been so rapid a growth in the number of monks, the variety of forms of monastic life, and the scale of monastic possessions. In this whole process of rapid change there were three different but connected developments. There was, first, the growth of existing monasteries. One of these, the abbey of Cluny, enjoyed an expansion so enormous, and of so special a kind, that it has to be discussed as a second element in the monastic scene. Thirdly, there were varied groups which may be loosely described as 'hermits', which were seeking a different type of monastic obedience from the one which had become traditional.


i. The Expansion of the Monasteries.

There were already many great monasteries in the eleventh century, with a long history behind them and large landed endowments. One of the most famous of all was Monte Cassino, to the south of Rome, where St Benedict himself had lived, and which was described as the 'head and beginning of all monasteries'.2 The disorders attendant on the collapse of Carolingian government had been a time of trouble for many of these houses; the number of monks had fallen, and the

____________________
1
Guibert of Nogent, De Vita Sua, i.11 E.-R. Labande (ed.), Autobiographie ( Paris, 1981), 72.
2
Duchesne (ed.), Liber Pontificalis ( Paris, 1886- 1957), ii.311.

-57-

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