The Supression of the English
From any point of view the destruction of the English monasteries by
must be regarded as one of the
great events of the sixteenth century. The
sought to abolish the entire monastic system in order to add to the
royal coffers and to break down opposition to royal supremacy. The Dissolution of the Monasteries (which term
includes abbeys and convents), covers the four years between Apr 1536 and Apr 1540. In Apr 1536, there were over
800 monasteries, abbeys, nunneries and friaries that were home to over 10,000 monks, nuns, friars and canons. By
April 1540 there were none left. Much of the property was bought by or granted to landowners; monastery churches
were sometimes converted to parish churches, while some buildings, such as
, were left to ruin.
I. Monasteries: their origin and functions. The progressive decline.
Monastic life is bound by ascetical practices expressed typically in the vows of
celibacy, poverty, and obedience, called the evangelical counsels. Monasticism is traditionally of two kinds: the
more usual form is known as the cenobitic, and is characterised by a completely communal style of life; the second
kind, the eremitic, entails a hermit's life of almost unbroken solitude. The Reformation saw the sudden end of
monasticism in the Protestant countries of Europe.
The Rule of
(c.480 - 547) became the foundation stone of monasteries around the world. It was
that introduced the Benedictine Rule to England when he arrived in Canterbury in 597.
By the 12th Century, many people felt the Benedictines no longer followed the Rule of Saint Benedict, becoming
lax in their prayers and work and so the Cistercian order was founded. The Cistercian's favoured solitude and so
built their monasteries in the middle of moors and mountain valleys. The Augustinian order was also founded at
around this time, and they were dedicated to evangelism, teaching and working with the poor and sick, and so lived
near towns and castles. In the 13th Century, orders of Friars were founded and they depended upon the charity of the
people they ministered to.
Monasticism is a form of religious life, usually conducted in a community under a common rule.
Although individual monks took a vow of poverty, monasteries were usually very wealthy because rich barons gave
them land and endowments. They used their resources to help the sick and the poor. Some monasteries had hospitals
and all had sick bays for monks who fell ill. Monks often experimented with herbs and plants which they made into