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Monastic Lives in Medieval England


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Katherine Harvey
  • Assessment: one essay of 5000-5500 words (100%)

Module description

We will explore the lives of monks in medieval England, focusing in particular on the Benedictine, Cistercian and Carthusian orders in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries.

Using a wide range of primary material (including saints' lives, monastic rules and material remains) and a rich body of secondary literature, we will consider what it meant to be a monk in medieval England. What happened when a man decided to enter a monastery? What was daily life like in a monastery such as Westminster Abbey, Fountains Abbey, or Mount Grace Priory? Did the inmates of such houses manage to live up to the high standards expected of them? And what can the lives of individual monks such as Aelred of Rievaulx and Hugh of Lincoln tell us about monastic life and culture in medieval England?

Indicative Module content

    • Introduction to medieval monasticism
    • Becoming a monk
    • Spirituality
    • Poverty, possessions and patronage
    • Chastity and sexuality
    • Obedience and discipline
    • Education and learning
    • Health and sickness
    • Monastic lives: Aelred of Rievaulx
    • Monastic lives: Hugh of Lincoln

    Learning objectives

    By the end of this module, you will be able to:

    • display a good knowledge of medieval monastic orders, monastic houses and the lives of medieval monks
    • understand and compare variations within medieval monasticism, particularly between monastic orders and over time
    • handle a wide range of primary sources with confidence, including biographical texts, chronicles, visitation records and material remains
    • engage with the significant body of secondary literature on this subject and with the arguments found therein
    • situate late medieval English monasticism within wider debates about the medieval church
    • discuss in an informed manner current academic debates about medieval monasticism (and related issues), in both small and large group discussion.