Letter: Medieval mysteries, monastically speaking

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The Independent Online
Sir: Helen Wood (Letters, 12 September) is correct in stating that the skeleton of a medieval monk - or, more properly, a canon - recently found in York could not have been both a Cistercian and a Gilbertine; it is incorrect, however, to say that he was an Augustinian.

The Order of St Gilbert of Sempringham was the only medieval monastic order founded in England; although St Gilbert late in life founded houses of canons (priests living together under a rule), most of the monastic communities he founded were double monasteries housing both men and women, although the sexes were strictly separated. The men followed the Rule of St Augustine; the women, that of St Benedict.

The Cistercian General Chapter of 1147 which rejected Gilbert's monasteries did not do so solely because of misogyny, for at the same assembly the Cistercians accepted into their number the double house of Obazine (which had both monks and a large number of nuns) as well as the Congregation of Savigny (which had three houses of women in addition to the 40 for men).

The Gilbertines were probably rejected by Citeaux because St Gilbert wished to abandon his monasteries in order to become a wandering preacher. The Cistercians were unwilling to take on the administration of a few small houses for women in the Lincolnshire fens, far from any other Cistercian houses, without the help and influence of their founder.

Yours faithfully,

J. M. B. PORTER

Department of History

University of Nottingham

Nottingham

14 September

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