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Melisende
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PostSubject: Medieval Monasteries   Sat Nov 01, 2008 2:56 pm

Monasteries as Retirement Homes

Some of us are labouring under the misconception that "retirement" to a monastery or nunnery or abbey meant retirement from life - full stop.

Not so - retirement only means a withdrawal from secular life, usually following the handing over of power or rule to a designated heir, and assume a more contemplative life of charitable works and pious foundations.

It does not imply sitting around on one's "duff" contemplating naval fluff. In many cases, it does not mean a complete withdrawal from life itself.

When one retires to a religious foundation (insert: monastery, nunnery, abbey), one is expected, to a certain degree, to take part in the daily religious observerances and where possible, all aspects of religious community life.

Of course, if one is a noble or royal personage, life is quite often much more comfortable, and one of course, would not be expected to undertake "manual" labour. One, however, might assume the role of educator or undertake administrative tasks. And many's the time a noble or royal has assumed the mantle of leadership with their chosen community.

Examples (in no particular order) of those who have "retired" to a religious foundation - these early examples are from 100 years either side of the Norman Invasion (dates in brackets indicate dates of "retirement"):
  • Adela of Blois (retired: 1120 - 1137) - as an avid letter writer, one would naturally assume that this would occupy a greater part of her day.
  • Adela (r. 1067 - 1079) - mother-in-law of William I; entered Messinesmonastre as a nun following the death of her second husband, Baldwin of Flanders.
  • Empress, St. Adelaide (r.996 - 999) - retired to her foundation at Setz after acting as regent for her son, HRE Otto II, and grandson, HRE Otto III.
  • William of Roumare (r.1153 - 1165) - monk at his foundation of Revesby.
  • William of Toulouse (r.994) - third husband of Adelaide d'Anjou; monk at Avignon where he died the same year.
  • William of Ypres (or Loo) (r. 1157 - 1163) - monk for 7 years at St.Peter on Loo where he died. He was one of the Flemish mercenaries who fought in the civil war between Stephen and Maud.
  • Ivo de Beaumont (r. 1027, 1039, & 1059-1083) - monk at Sainte-Spire, Corbeil.
  • Roger de Beaumont (r.1094 - 1095) - monk at St.Pierre, Preaux, after the death of his wife.


And a couple of my favourites - who decided to "retire" from life altogether:
  • Roger de Montgomery, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, who became a monk following a long illness and died a few days later.
  • Hugh de Grandmesnil, who became a monk at Leicester (16/2/1094) and died six days later (22/2/1094).
  • Hugh de Avranches, yes noble Hugh - he became a monk and died three days later (1101) - so I wont insult his intellect by saying he "lived in such religious locations simply to contemplate his navel" - no he simply entered religious life TO DIE!


It was a common occurrence for noble and royal alike to enter into religious vows on their deathbeds - King Baldwin II of Jerusalem did - as did the three abovementioned nobles.

I have many, many more examples .... but permit me a quote from that Norman, Orderic Vitalis himself, when writing about Hugh de Grandmesnil:
".. he assumed, in accordance with the common practice of the period, the habit of a monk".


However, there are many, many, many more examples both before and after the Invasion of monasteries being used as "retirement" homes and also as a place where one might breathe their last, so to speak.

Unlike today, there were no nursing homes or palative care units - monasteries undertook quite a bit from feeding and clothing the poor, to tending the sick, and providing a quiet little cell for those who could afford it. Many monasteries had a hospice attached, and nearly all had infirmaries.

So the idea that monasteries could provide what we today might refer to as "nursing-home" style of care is a lot nearer to the truth than we might assume.

And this was in addition to pastoral duties within the community, contribution to local government, and the production of manuscripts, etc.

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