Their tribal character is a feature which Irish and Welsh monasteries had in common. Illtyd spent the first part of his religious life as a disciple of Cadoc at Llancarfan. He founded the monastery at Llanilltyd Fawr. One of his students was Paul Aurelian , a key figure in Cornish monasticism. Samson founded a monastery in an abandoned Roman fort near the river Severn and lived for a time the life of a hermit in a nearby cave before going to Brittany.
St David established his monastery on a promontory on the western sea, well placed to be a centre of Insular Christianity. His establishment became known for its austerity and holiness, more than as a centre of learning,  although when King Alfred sought a scholar for his court, he summoned Asser of St David's. Many early medieval settlements in the region were occupied by hermitage chapels which are often dedicated to St Michael as the conventional slayer of pagan demons, as at St Michael's Mount. The earliest monastic settlements in Ireland emerged at the end of the fifth century.
It was from Illtud and his colleagues that the Irish sought guidance on matters of ritual and discipline. Enda of Aran is called the "patriarch of Irish monasticism".
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About he established the first Irish monastery at Killeaney on Aran Mor. Finnian of Clonard is said to have studied under Cadoc at Llancarfan in Glamorganshire.
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Ireland was a rural society of chieftains living in the countryside. As in Wales, if a clan chieftain accepted Christianity so did those he ruled. The monastery became the spiritual focus of the tribe or kin group. In Ireland, the abbot was often called "coarb", a term designating the heir of successor of the founder.
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The abbots of the principal monasteries— such as Clonard, Armagh, Clonmacnoise, Swords, etc. They wielded great power and had vast influence. The abbot usually was only a presbyter, but in the large monasteries there were one or more resident bishops who conferred orders and discharged the other functions of a bishop.
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The abbot was superior of the house, and all were subject to him. The Irish rule was rigorous. It was more or less a copy of the French rule, as the French was a copy of the Thebaid. The daily routine of monastic life was prayer, study, and manual labor.
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With regard to food the rule was very strict. Only one meal a day, at 3 o'clock p. Wednesdays and Fridays were fast days, except the interval between Easter and Whit Sunday. The food allowed was barley bread, milk, fish, and eggs.
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Flesh meat was not allowed except on great feasts. In Ireland a distinctive form of penance developed, where confession was made privately to a priest, under the seal of secrecy, and where penance was given privately and ordinarily performed privately as well. David's, and spread by missions to Ireland. Irish monasticism maintained the model of a monastic community while, like John Cassian, marking the contemplative life of the hermit as the highest form of monasticism. Saints' lives frequently tell of monks and abbots departing some distance from the monastery to live in isolation from the community.
Irish monastic rules specify a stern life of prayer and discipline in which prayer, poverty, and obedience are the central themes. Irish monks needed to learn Latin, the language of the Church. Thus they read Latin texts, both spiritual and secular, with an enthusiasm that their contemporaries on the continent lacked. Subjects taught included Latin, Greek, Hebrew, grammar, rhetoric, poetry, arithmetic, chronology, the Holy Places, hymns, sermons, natural science, history and especially the interpretation of Sacred Scripture.
In St Brendan founded a monastery at Clonfert. By the end of the seventh century, Irish monastic schools were attracting students from England and from Europe. The achievements of insular art , in illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells , high crosses , and metalwork like the Ardagh Chalice , and in the case of manuscript decoration had a profound influence on Western medieval art.
The manuscripts were produced by and for monasteries, and evidence suggests that metalwork was produced in both monastic and royal workshops. The monastery of Saint Brigit , at Kildare was a double monastery, with both men and women ruled by the Abbess, a pattern found in other monastic foundations. Columba and his followers established monasteries at Bangor , on the northeastern coast of Ireland, at Iona , an island north-west of Scotland, and at Lindisfarne , which was founded by Aidan, an Irish monk from Iona, at the request of King Oswald of Northumbria.
Abbots of Iona were normally appointed from the founders kin, with an abbot often naming hhis successor. Columbanus , an abbot from a Leinster noble family, traveled to Gaul in the late 6th century with twelve companions. Columbanus and his followers spread the Irish model of monastic institutions to the continent. After Childebert's death Columbanus traveled east to Metz, where Theudebert II allowed him to establish a new monastery among the semi-pagan Alemanni in what is now Switzerland.
One of Columbanus's followers founded the monastery of St. Gall on the shores of Lake Constance, while Columbanus continued onward across the Alps to the kingdom of the Lombards in Italy. There King Agilulf and his wife Theodolinda granted Columbanus land in the mountains between Genoa and Milan, where he established the monastery of Bobbio.
From about until the reign of Charlemagne in the s, the Hiberno-Scottish efforts in the Frankish Empire were continued by the Anglo-Saxon mission. The rule of St. Columbanus, which was originally followed in most of these monasteries, was eventually superseded by that of St. Benedict of Nursia is the most influential of Western monks and is called "the Father of Western Monasticism". He was educated in Rome but soon sought the life of a hermit in a cave at Subiaco , outside the city.
He then attracted followers with whom he founded the monastery of Monte Cassino around , between Rome and Naples. He established the Rule of St Benedict , adapting in part the earlier anonymous Rule of the Master Regula magistri , which was written somewhere south of Rome around , and defined the activities of the monastery, its officers, and their responsibilities.
By the ninth century, largely under the inspiration of the Emperor Charlemagne , Benedict's Rule became the basic guide for Western monasticism.
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Early Benedictine monasteries were relatively small and consisted of an oratory, refectory, dormitory, scriptorium, guest accommodation and out-buildings, a group of often quite separate rooms more reminiscent of a decent sized Roman villa than a large medieval abbey. A monastery of about a dozen monks would have been normal during this period. Medieval monastic life consisted of prayer, reading, and manual labor. Apart from prayer, monks performed a variety of tasks, such as preparing medicine, lettering, reading, and others.
Also, these monks would work in the gardens and on the land. They might also spend time in the cloister, a covered colonnade around a courtyard, where they would pray or read. Some monasteries held a scriptorium where monks would write or copy books. When the monks wrote, they used very neat handwriting and would draw illustrations in the books and decorate the first letter of each paragraph. The efficiency of Benedict's cenobitic Rule in addition to the stability of the monasteries made them very productive.
The monasteries were the central storehouses and producers of knowledge. Vikings started attacking Irish monasteries famous for learning in In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the growing pressure of monarchies and the nation states undermined the wealth and power of the orders. Monasticism continued to play a role in Catholicism, but after the Protestant reformation many monasteries in Northern Europe were shut down and their assets seized. In the twelfth century, traditional monastic orders in Outremer evolved into military orders, initially for the purpose of defending pilgrims, although they later became larger military forced that played a key role in combating Muslim efforts at reconquest and propping up continued Christian rule in the region.
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