SOME ASPECTS OF MONASTIC LIFE
A KNOWLEDGE of the characteristic features of Monastic Life in the centuries immediately preceding the era of the Reformation is of especial value, not because they were in themselves particularly interesting, but because they led up to that era. The subject, however, is so vast that we can only hope to touch upon one or two aspects of it, and we shall therefore confine ourselves to those which bear most directly upon the mode of life of the religious orders.
The number of convents in England at the close of the Middle Ages was very large--counting monasteries, friaries and nunneries together,--between six and seven hundred. The rules of the different orders varied slightly, and conditions of life also depended to some extent upon the size and resources of the respective houses, but they had many features in common.
A large and wealthy monastery was a very imposing institution and very elaborately organized. Its head, the Abbot, or in some cases the Prior, was not only an absolute ruler within his own domain, but also a person of great social weight outside it. He often had a house apart from the monks and a large staff of servants of his own. The residence of the Prior of Durham was