Mosaics and Microcosm: Iconography in Ancient Byzantine Monasteries

Byzantine texts interpreted the domed church as a microcosm – a three-dimensional image of the cosmos. Ecstatic Motion The city of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire since its foundation by Constantine in 330 C.E., was roiled by the Iconoclastic Controversy in the 8th and 9th centuries. Emperors, bishops, and many others debated[…]

Monastic Medicine: Medieval Herbalism and Science

Examining modern remedies derived from medieval monastic knowledge. Most people think of herbal medicine as a distinctly ‘alternative’ option – something that you might try for a cough or cold that won’t budge, but not for life-threatening illnesses. Medical historian Dr Johannes Mayer, however, takes it all much more seriously: he believes that the herbal[…]

Life in a Japanese Buddhist Monastery

Buddhism was first introduced to Japan from mainland Asia in the 6th century CE, and monasteries were built from the 7th century CE. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Buddhist monasteries have been part of the Japanese cultural landscape ever since the 7th century CE, and they remained both powerful and socially important institutions right through the[…]

The Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Democratization of Magic in Post-Reformation England

How monks, friars and monastic sites became associated with magic in popular tradition, resulting in a lasting stereotype of medieval monks and friars as the masters of occult knowledge. Abstract The dissolution of the monasteries in England (1536–1540) forced hundreds of former inmates of religious houses to seek livelihoods outside the cloister to supplement meagre[…]

Monastic Orders of the Middle Ages

Monasteries in the Early Middle Ages already had rudimentary rules and guidelines. Introduction The monastic orders of the Middle Ages developed from the desire to live a spiritual life without the distractions of the world. Men and women who took religious vows were seeking a purity of experience they found lacking as lay people. Their[…]

Ancient Monasticism and the Quest for Silence

Monasticism developed in part because people were seeking the solace of quiet places But finding solitude was a struggle. In our contemporary world, noise pollution has reached dangerous levels. The World Health Organization has argued that “excessive noise” is a serious threat to human health. Studies have shown that excessive exposure to noise not only causes hearing loss but also leads to heart[…]

Advice from Medieval Monks on Avoiding Distraction

They saw the mind as an inherently jumpy thing. Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about how, even once you finally settled on something to read,[…]

Secluding Nuns in Early Christian Monastic Communities to Avoid Scandal

Since the early days of monasticism, the presence of nuns led to restrictions that limited contact between men and women. Pope Francis recently stated that Catholic nuns in various parts of the world, including Africa, Europe, India and Latin America, have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of priests and bishops. In his comments during a news[…]

Medieval Monasteries: Community Centers of Technology and Education

Monasteries were important centers of learning which educated the young and produced new technologies for agricultural and other needs. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction A medieval monastery was an enclosed and sometimes remote community of monks led by an abbot who shunned worldly goods to live a simple life of prayer and devotion. Christian monasteries had first developed[…]