Boethius and Cassiodorus represent something of a bridge between the Roman world and that of medieval Europe. As Roman political and economic structures broke down, a new organizational force appeared that was destined to have major educational significance. This was the monastic establishment, whose houses dotted the European landscape.
Monasteries existed by the early fifth century. Augustine sent his commonlaw wife to a monastery and founded one himself in Hippo. Hypatia was killed by a group of Coptic monks from around Alexandria.
The beginning of monastic life in the West is traditionally dated with unusual precision. Despite the early existence of religious communities around the time of Christ, the first famous person identified as a Christian hermit was an Egyptian named Anthony. In 271, when he was a little more than twenty, he heard the following words of Jesus read: "If you will be perfect go, sell all you have, and give to the poor, and come follow me." A wealthy man, Anthony gave away his property, except for enough to support a younger sister. Then he sent her to live in a community of religious women--an indication that such Christian nunneries already existed. He had been a loner as a child. After his conversion, he withdrew to the desert where he undertook a solitary life of prayer, self-assessment, manual labor, and contemplation. He lived to a grand old age--well over one hundred-- and became famous. As people increasingly sought his advice and assistance, he retired further from civilization. 1