SOBER, silent and steadfast? Not a bit of it. Benedictine monks of the middle ages died in duels, went on the lash and even rode off to war.
Far from living a cloistered existence, members of the Catholic order were worldly-wise and led colourful lives, new research has found.
Remarkable personal tales of English and Welsh Benedictine monks — many exiled in Europe — have been uncovered by Dr James Kelly of Durham University.
‘The records provide a fascinating view of monks who, far from living quietly in exile, were very much part of contemporary life,’ he said.
‘These were men of the world, who joined the order for a number of reasons and who were not afraid to rebel against the expected norms of society.’
Some exiled monks fought in the English Civil War and French Revolution — and there is evidence the order was infiltrated by English government spies. Stories uncovered included a monk imprisoned for refusing to observe the requirement for abstinence and another who joined having accidentally killed his brother with a cannonball.
Dr Kelly’s Monks in Motion project brings together books, monastery records and letters to build up a picture of Benedictine life from 1553 to 1800 in Britain and Europe. The findings are available on an open database for scholars and the public to access.