Rule of St. Benedict

Rule of St. Benedict

Canterbury or West Midlands (United Kingdom) — ca. 700

A rare specimen of Anglo-Saxon book art: the oldest surviving copy of the Rule of St. Benedict was created in England ca. 700

  1. Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480-547) first recorded his precepts for monastic living in 512

  2. Founded in 597, England hosts the oldest Benedictine community in the world today

  3. This manuscript is one of only fourteen surviving examples of Insular Uncial script

Rule of St. Benedict

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Rule of St. Benedict

England hosts the oldest Benedictine congregation in the world and as such also has the oldest surviving copy of the Rule of St. Benedict. The manuscript originated either in Southern England or the Midlands ca. 700 and survives in surprisingly good shape despite being 1,300 years old. What is more, the manuscript is a rare specimen of Insular Uncial script that was created by an expert hand. 77 large initials serve to both decorate the text and divide it into sections, which are numbered in red ink. Thus, this manuscript serves as a precious testament to the history of both English monasticism and Anglo-Saxon book art.

Rule of St. Benedict

The oldest extant copy of the Rule of St. Benedict originated in England ca. 700 and is a precious artifact of early Insular manuscript culture. Although little is known about its origins, it appears to have been created in a monastery in either the Midlands or Southern England. Despite being 1,300 years old, it survives in surprisingly good shape, probably due to the fact that it likely sat on the shelf of a monastic library in Worcester for centuries. The manuscript was in the personal library of Baron Christopher Hatton (1605-70), a prominent antiquarian and collector of medieval manuscripts, before being purchased by Oxford University in 1671. Stored under the shelf mark MS Hatton 48 in the Bodleian Library, it represents one of only fourteen surviving examples of Insular Uncial script and is arguably the finest specimen of the group. At the same time, it is a precious artifact of early monasticism in England.

Writing Without Spaces

The anonymous scribe responsible for the text incorporated elements of Roman script, most notably his use of scriptio continua or “continuous script”, a style of writing originating from ancient Greece without spaces, punctuation, diacritics, or differences in letter case. It was written by an expert hand in bold letters with shading. 77 large initials and verse numbers in fine red ink are the only means of separating the text into sections. Judging by the quality of the script, a wealthy individual or institution must have patronized the work on the manuscript, but at the same time, the poor quality of the parchment means they must have been limited to what they could source locally.

The Founder of Western Monasticism

In 516 Benedict of Nursia (ca. 480-547) wrote the original Rule of Saint Benedict as a book of precepts for monks living in a community under an abbot who serves as a spiritual father. The Rule provides a relatively moderate path between the individual and the institution and this moderation is largely the reason for its popularity. However, Saint Benedict did not actually establish an order and did not create a hierarchy beyond the individual institutions. Even after the Benedictines became an official monastic order at the end of the Middle Ages, they continued to operate as a collection of autonomous monasteries known today as the Benedictine Confederation. Augustine of Canterbury (d. 604) and his monks established the first English Benedictine monastery at Canterbury soon after their arrival in 597, which is the oldest Benedictine congregation in the world.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Benediktsregel
Regula Benedicti
Oxoniensis Rule
Size / Format
76 folios / 30.0 × 21.5 cm
Date
ca. 700
Style
Language
Script
Insular Uncial
Illustrations
Numerous ornamental initials and decorated majuscules
Content
Rule of St Benedict (missing end); Enchiridion (manual) of St. Augustine (fragment)
Previous Owners
Robert Scot

Available facsimile editions:
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Rule of St. Benedict

Commentary: 1 volume by David H. Farmer
Language: English
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Monochrome reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding. Facsimile and commentary are housed in separate parts of the same volume.
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