The Rule of St. Benedict

St. Benedict
Baltinglass Heritage Centre

The Rule of St. Benedict

The Rule of St. Benedict was written in the sixth century. It laid out a practical guide for a life of prayer, spiritual reading and manual labour. Every aspect of a monk’s life was to be carried out in direct obedience to this Rule. The purpose of the Rule was to enable the monks to live a good life, so that when they died they would find salvation. The leader of the monastery was the Abbot who was as important to the monks as the King to the Irish. The Abbot at Baltinglass was a significant figure in Anglo-Norman society. He had a seat in the Irish Parliament. He was also given permission to negotiate and make settlements with the Irish if they stole his sheep. The Abbot had to administer, and live by, the Rule of St. Benedict:

“As often as any important business has to be done in the monastery, let the Abbot cail together the whole community and himself set forth the matter. And, having heard the advice of the brethren, let him take counsel with himself and then do what he shall judge to be most expedient. Now the reason why we have said that all should be called to counsel, is that God often reveals what is better to the younger”.

The Rule covered matters from the religious to the domestic. When the monks went to eat, each monk had to serve the others in rotation, wash each other’s feet and do the washing up afterwards, so they would not become proud. Even the clothes the monks were to wear were regulated:

“Let clothing be given to the brethren according to the nature of the locality in which they dwell and its climate, for in cold districts they will need more clothing, and in warm districts less. It is the Abbot’s business to take thought for this matter. But we believe that in ordinary places the following dress is sufficient for each monk: a cowl (thick and woolly in winter, but thin or worn in summer), a belt for work, and for the feet shoes and stockings. And let not the monks complain of the colour or coarseness of any of these things, but be content with what is to be found in the district where they live”.  

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