The father of the Western monasterial movement is Saint Benedict of Nursia, Italy, (c.480-c.550). He founded the Benedictine Monastery on Italy’s Montecassino, and laid down the rules governing life in the Western monastery. The administrative law, which he compiled, containing both spiritual and practical guidelines, has maintained its validity for over 1500 years. Benedictine monks worked in their libraries, copying, illuminating and preserving manuscripts concerned with the ancient and Christian worlds.
In the 13th century two orders, Franciscan and Dominican were recognized by the same Pope, and while this was not the main purpose of their founding, they became centres of scientific learning, like universities. Their aim was to combat heretical movements and to regenerate the Christian way of life and its virtues. The founder of the Franciscan Order in 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi, Italy, (1181-1226) set an example to the Christian world by his way of life, even more than by his teachings. He wore the brown, hooded Franciscan habit with its belt of knotted cord. In this Order, monks and novices dedicated their lives to prayer and repentance, and devoted their efforts to education, charitable works and social service. They went around preaching, performing missionary work and contributed much to scholarship and research. They organized many of the rules of worship in the Catholic Church in such a way as to make them attractive to the general public. Originally renouncing all forms of personal and communal property and possessions, Franciscan monks and priests later adopted a less rigid way of community life. Religious fraternities in university cities, such as Oxford and Paris, rapidly spread into Europe’s most famous theological colleges. The Franciscan Order went into decline during the French Revolution, but was again rejuvenated in the 19th century. Today, Franciscans are to be found among both Roman Catholic and Anglican communities all over the world.