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Introduction (Continued)

A religious life was highly thought of, but none more so than the monastic way of life. Monastic life was highly organized and regimental. The daily timetable used in many monasteries and convents dated back to the the rule of St. Benedict in the late fifth century. This 'rule' of life was soon used by monks all over Europe. The monks who followed it became known as members of the Benedictine Order. There was also a similar order created for Benedictine nuns, started by St. Benedict's sister, St. Scholastica.

The Benedictine Rule gave a pattern to each day. Prayer, manual work in the fields to produce food for the monastery, work in the cloister (a covered walk around four sides of a square at the heart of the monastery) used for studying, writing prayers and producing books filled the monks' hours. Nuns did not study but spent time in cloister sewing clothes for the poor or preparing medicines. When people became monks or nuns, they made three vows. They swore to give up all their personal possessions (the vow of poverty), they promised not to marry (the vow of chastity) and they promised to obey the head of the monastery or abbey, the abbot or abbess (the vow of obedience).

As time went by, the Benedictines were criticized for a number of reasons. Some monasteries had become wealthy, some monks failed to keep their vows. New orders of monks were founded by enthusiasts who wanted to change these things. One new order was the Cistercian Order. The order became respected at once. Those lacking the ability to learn all the Latin prayers for the services could still have a place with the Cistercians. They became lay brothers, or conversi. Lay brothers helped work on the monastery estates and joined in what services they could in church. Over seven hundred Cistercian houses were founded in Europe.

Not all people felt they could endure the discipline of monastic life. People who wanted to show how much they respected this way of life, but who did not want to take religious vows themselves gave gifts to the monasteries or convents. Nobles gave lands for the building of new religious houses in exchange for prayers. Others gave gifts of gold. Such gifts brought problems for the monks and nuns. They were difficult to refuse and in time there were monasteries that became wealthy as a result.

The monks found that they were not as cut off from society as they had intended. They had extensive estates to run and workers to supervise. It was not long before the Cistercians and the other new orders were criticized as much as the Benedictines. Throughout Europe dissatisfaction spread, which lead to reforms in the Church known as the Protestant Reformation, and essentially the end of the Middle Ages or medieval era.

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