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Heavenly Hosts

Julie Kerr looks at the role of hospitality to the Benedictine community between the years 1066 to 1250, and how monks and nuns sought to fulfil their monastic obligations in this respect  without impeding their ideals.

Hospitality was - and still is - an integral part of monastic life. A medieval monastery would receive lay travellers and pilgrims, as well as fellow monks who could be accommodated away from worldly temptations. The size, grandeur and location of some monasteries meant that they might be chosen as venues for assemblies and great gatherings. Others, in busy towns or near main routes and ports, were likely to be inundated with visitors seeking to break their journeys. But monasteries in remote rural areas were just as likely to be overwhelmed with guests if they were the only recourse for travellers in the locality.

The medieval monastery thus fulfilled an important social function through its reception of guests, but hospitality also offered a way for the religious community to fulfil its spiritual obligations and secure salvation. In receiving guests the monks were following Christ's injunction and adhering to the Rule of St Benedict, the sixth-century precepts that became the blueprint for monastic observance in the West. Chapter 53 states:

Let all guests that come be received like Christ Himself for He will say ‘I was a stranger and you took Me in’.  And let fitting honour be shown to all, especially to such as are of the household of the faith and to pilgrims.

It was in this respect part of the monks' 'after life' insurance. Yet guests could also expose the community to noise and disruption and introduce a variety of temptations that might impede monastic observance.

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