The Benedictine Orders in Medieval England.

The arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066 is a convenient point to start as among the conquerors retinue was Ingulf, who had a prime role in the acceptance and establishment of monasteries in England. Ingulf had been secretary to William since meeting him in 1051 and had then made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land before becoming Prior of the Abbey of Fontenels, in Normandy. William subsequently invited Ingulf to preside over the Abbey of Croyland. Following the invasion any abbey that had incurred the kings displeasure had suffered dispossession of their lands and revenues and seizure of their treasures. The king routinely disregarded their charters from preceding monarchs and settled his own choice as abbot to vacancies. The appointment of Ingulf and the establishment of Croyland was the turning point for the monasteries who began a period of unparallel  splendour from anything they had previously enjoyed.

A substantial gain was made by the Cistercian monks. They were little known prior to the Conquest , originating  from a branch of the Benedictines in the diocese of Chalons. There Robert , Abbot of Molesme  in Burgundy had founded a monastery . He sought to reinforce strict compliance with the Rule of St Benedict and eventually went with about 20 monks to Citeaux, from whence the order took its name. In 1113 AD St Bernard arrived at the monastery with thirty companions to enrol in the order. By the end of the 12th century it had associate branches throughout Europe.. The first in England was  at Waverley in Surrey in 1129 AD, founded by William Gifford, Bishop of Winchester. 1132 saw the establishment of Tintern Abbey,  Rieval Abbey ( Walter L`Espee) and Byland Abbey ( Roger de Mowbray). The Cistercians were held in very high regard particularly for their air of sanctity as well as good works among the poor. This was in part due to the influence of St Bernard with the various Princes and Kings who gave a respectful obedience to him. In France and Germany the Order was also known as the Bernardines. They were known as the white monks from their dress,  a white frock or cassock over which was worn a black  cloak when outside the monastery. Their monasteries were noted for their remoteness, out of the way of the more common haunts of man, and often in remote  mountain valleys. St Bernard was guided in his choice of location by Deuteronomy xxxii, 13  "He made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the  the flinty rock.".

Another branch of the Benedictine tree were the Cluniac monks, who also came to England with the Conquest from their monastery at Clugni in Burgundy. Their founder, Odo, sought to improve the rules of the Benedictines and in so doing created a new order. They wore a black cassock  with a white tunic  or woollen shirt underneath, and a black hood to pull over the head. There were few of this order, the first being in Lewes, Sussex , established by the Earl Warenne, son in law of the Conqueror. A feature of their order was two mandatory masses a day with failure to attend a very serious offence. Their living was frugal  eating only once a day between 13 September and Lent, with broken food given to pilgrims. Eighteen poor people were fed daily, with many more  during Lent. Their piety and zeal gained them a high reputation on the continent but they did not really prosper in England and their presence was effectively ended by Henry V going to war with France.

The Grandmontines was another Order related to the Benedictines and named after their origin in Grammont, Limoges. Founded in the 11th century by Stephen , a nobleman from Auvergne, their Rule was another very austere version of St Benedict with particular emphasis on poverty  and obedience. To this end the monks were prohibited  from possessing lands beyond the convent; they should not eat meat - not even the sick and infirm. Neither were they allowed to keep cattle less it expose them to temptation. Silence was strictly enforced; there was no communication or contact with women, and only the very important persons were allowed as visitors . The monks were greatly venerated while the discipline of the order was maintained, but in time relaxations diminished its credibility and became a minor offshoot of the Benedictines.

The Carthusians were yet another branch of the Benedictines, named after their monastery at  Chartreux, near Grenoble. Their founder, Bruno of Cologne and Canon of Rheims with six companions, irritated by the corruption in the church retired to a desolate spot  where they first adopted the rule of St Benedict. to which he added  several severe and rigorous precepts. His successors went further  such that the Order became the most austere  and indeed, gloomy, of all the Benedictine related Orders. The Order did not really prosper in England with only nine houses established ; the first being at Witham , Somerset, in 1181 AD. Their most famous was Charter House, London.

The Augustine Orders.

Military Orders.

Home Scottish Reformation The Covenanters Ulster Scots English Reformation European Reformation General Topics & Glossary My Books & Bibliography Contact