Monasteries


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Monasteries

 

in a number of religions, communities of monks or nuns who adopt uniform rules of life (the monastic rule).

Historical survey. The earliest monasteries were founded by Buddhists in India in the middle of the first millennium B.C. At first, they were communities (sanghas) of wandering hermits who gathered in sanctuaries, many of which were simply caves. With the exception of slaves, debtors, and royal servants, all who came were accepted into these communities, regardless of their social position. As the monastic communities grew wealthy through gifts from royalty and the elite, their character changed: the once obligatory vow of poverty became a sham, and the monasteries were transformed from a refuge from the vanities of the world into an ideological buttress of the status quo.

Buddhist monasteries were also established in Burma and Thailand (second and third centuries A.D.), Vietnam and China (fourth century), Korea and Japan (sixth through eighth centuries), and Indonesia (seventh century). They became major feudal landowners and actively participated in politics. Later, with the growing strength of Hinduism in India, Confucianism and Shintoism in Japan, and Confucianism in China, the influence and number of Buddhist monasteries in these countries declined sharply. In India the Buddhist monasteries lost power from the sixth and seventh centuries; in China, from the ninth century; in Japan, from the 16th; and in Southeast Asia, from the 12th through the 14th. Monasteries were important in Tibet, Mongolia, and other regions of Central Asia penetrated by Lamaist Buddhism.

Christian monasteries originated as settlements of hermits in third- and fourth-century Egypt, where Anthony the Great was active. In the fourth century the first cenobitic, or communal, settlement was founded in Tabennisi (Egypt) by Pachomius. In the fourth and fifth centuries monasteries were founded in Palestine and Syria. Subsequently, they spread along the Mediterranean coast, as well as to Gaul and Ireland.

Monastic life was regulated by a monastic rule. In Byzantine monasteries, the rule of Basil the Great (fourth century) was followed, and later, that of the Studius monastery in Constantinople (ninth century). Most Western European monasteries followed the rule of Benedict of Nursia, founder of a monastery at Monte Cassino (Italy, c. 530), who laid the foundation for the Benedictine Order. Catholic monasteries and convents were headed by abbots and abbesses, and Eastern Orthodox ones, by hegumens. Economically, the monasteries were self-sufficient. During the earliest stage of their development they were organized as collectives of salvation-seekers who were considered equal to each other and who were obliged to perform manual labor. Ideologically, the first monasteries offered an illusory outlet for social protest against the existing world order.

With the development of feudalism, the character of the monasteries changed: social stratification emerged among the monks, who came to be divided into a number of categories based on their functions, social standing and connections, and moral authority. Increasingly, the Western European monastic class was drawn from the feudal aristocracy. Thus, the monastic elite was virtually indistinguishable from the ruling class. From the tenth century, Catholic monks were forbidden to do physical labor, and in the llth century the heavier work in agriculture and livestock raising was transferred to special workers (conversi, or lay brothers) and enserfed peasants exploited by the monasteries.

As feudalism developed, the monasteries became major feudal landowners, chiefly at the expense of the peasants. Many of the medieval monasteries owned hundreds of thousands of hectares (ha). For example, in the ninth century the French monastery of St.-Germain-des-Prés owned 430,000 ha of land, and the Monastery of St.-Martin, 810,000 ha. The precarium became a common practice on monastery lands. Royal authority strengthened the Catholic monasteries by granting them administrative, tax, and legal autonomy (immunity).

The Byzantine monasteries differed substantially from the Western European. The monks could dispose of property and draw up wills. Most of them lived in cells rather than in dormitories. Until the 14th century, Byzantine monasteries did not become large-scale landowners, and economically they were under the control of the state.

In the 11th through 13th centuries there was an upsurge in the monastic economy of Western Europe. Using the labor of numerous dependent peasants, some of whom retained their personal freedom and some of whom were subject to corvée (in the large monasteries of central England, for example), the monasteries expanded the areas under cultivation, plowing virgin lands, clearing forests, and draining swamps. Many monasteries became large farming estates, with well-developed agriculture and handicrafts. Monasteries located on trade routes were drawn into commodity-money relations at an early date and traded in salt, wine, grain, and other commodities. They became centers for commercial and moneylending transactions—the medieval equivalents of banks. As commodity-money relations developed, the monasteries, having become involved in this aspect of worldly activity, were secularized, and monastic life lost the ascetic quality of the original communes. Debauchery, gluttony, and idleness began to flourish in the monasteries.

In the llth through 13th centuries the Catholic monasteries grew stronger, chiefly as a result of the Cluniac Reforms, the proponents of which demanded the reinstatement of the strict monastic rule of Benedict of Nursia.

Many of the Catholic monasteries were the cradles of monastic orders, and a number of monasteries united to form “congregations.” With the founding of the religious orders of knights during the Crusades (12th and 13th centuries), a new type of Catholic monastery emerged, intended to support the Crusaders. Infirmaries for the wounded, stations for the exchange and ransoming of prisoners, shelters for pilgrims, and other facilities were established at monasteries.

The founding of the mendicant orders in the first half of the 13th century, a period of intensified sociopolitical conflict engendered by the growth of commodity-money relations, resulted in the establishment of Catholic monasteries that were closely connected with the cities. Among their most important tasks was the struggle against popular heresies. Many of the monks who set forth from these monasteries as missionaries to various countries founded “daughter” monasteries, which became strongholds for military aggression and colonization. A bulwark of the papacy in its struggle for political supremacy, the monasteries hindered the rise of strong centralized states in Europe.

The monasteries contributed to the spread of literacy, book learning, and artistic crafts in the early Middle Ages, when the Church had a monopoly on education. Associated with the monasteries were the monastic schools, as well as workshops where manuscripts were copied. However, as secular culture developed and science broke away from theology, the monasteries became the main centers of the struggle against scientific thought and advanced ideas.

The Catholic monasteries were badly shaken by the Reformation, which was accompanied by the abolition of monasticism as a special institution in the territories penetrated by Protestantism, as well as by the closing of monasteries and the secularization of their lands in England, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, parts of Switzerland, Scotland, and the German Protestant principalities.

As a result of the Counter-Reformation, the monastic movement regained some of its strength. From the second half of the 16th century the new monasteries set as their main task the training of clerical cadres for the struggle against Protestantism. Monasteries, especially those founded by the Jesuits, were the chief weapon of clericalism in its struggle against progressive forces.

The bourgeois revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, especially the Great French Revolution, dealt a great blow to the monasteries. However, as the revolutionary labor and democratic movement grew, bourgeois reactionaries reopened many of the monasteries in several countries. In the late 19th century the number of monasteries began to rise, and their reactionary activity in the struggle against the democratic labor movement and socialism became quite extensive. In the 20th century certain Protestant churches, including the Anglican Church and a number of evangelical churches in the USA, which had once decisively rejected monasticism, permitted the establishment of monasteries.

In historical literature the term “monasteries” is sometimes also applied to the dwellings of the Muslim dervishes, who are occasionally referred to as monks. This usage is incorrect.

In most modern capitalist countries monasteries have ceased to play a role as independent economic units. Capital accumulation is concentrated in those monastic orders that purchase shares in banks, enterprises, and trade. The large monastic estates have been abolished, the activity of monasteries is regulated by governmental laws, the number of monks has declined, and some monasteries have been closed. In accordance with the decisions of Vatican Council II (1962–65), monasteries are obliged to respect local traditions and customs, particularly in mission areas.

According to official statistics for 1972, there are 25,000 Catholic monasteries and 100,000 Catholic convents in the world. However, each of them, especially the convents, has very few residents—usually from ten to 12. Western European monasteries actively promote the policies of clericalism.

In the USSR church and state are separate. The few Eastern Orthodox monasteries still in existence are purely religious organizations. In the European socialist countries monasteries are no longer large landowners. Decrees limiting monastic land allotments were issued in Albania on May 27, 1946; in Bulgaria on Mar. 12, 1946; in Czechoslovakia on Oct. 14 and 18, 1949; in Hungary on Mar. 15, 1945; in Poland in March 1950; and in Yugoslavia in 1945. In Rumania, where monastic lands had been confiscated in the latter half of the 19th century, the agricultural property of the monasteries was not subject to alienation but remained under monastic ownership, in accordance with the Agrarian Reform Law of Mar. 23, 1945. Owing to the predominance of Protestantism, monastic landownership was generally insignificant in the German Democratic Republic. Therefore, the agrarian reform laws of 1945 did not call for the confiscation of monastic lands.

In the socialist states of Asia monasteries have also ceased to be important landowners. As early as December 1928, a decision by the Great Khural of the Mongolian People’s Republic made large-scale feudal landholdings, including those of the monasteries, subject to confiscation. In the Democratic Republic of Vietnam the Agrarian Reform Law of Dec. 4, 1953, made monastery lands subject to requisition or forced sale. In the Korean Democratic People’s Republic a law promulgated on Mar. 5, 1946, forbids monastery landholdings in excess of five chonbos (4.95 ha). The Agrarian Reform Law of June 1950 made monastic lands in the People’s Republic of China subject to requisition and distribution among landless and land-poor peasants.

G. F. IL’IN and B. IA. RAMM

Russia. The first Russian monasteries were founded in the llth century, after the acceptance of Christianity. Established near towns by princes and boyars who granted them lands, subsidies, and legal and taxation privileges, the monasteries played an important role in strengthening and developing feudal relationships in ancient Rus’ In the first centuries after the Christianization of Rus’, monasteries were centers for teaching writing, as well as for keeping chronicles and organizing libraries. The Kiev-Pecherskaia Laura became Russia’s most important monastery in the llth and 12th centuries. In addition to large establishments such as the Kiev-Pecherskaia and the Novgorod lur’ev monasteries, small ones accommodating three to five eremitic monks became widespread in the 12th and 13th centuries. In the second half of the 14th century, Metropolitans Aleksei and Sergius of Radonezh and their disciples carried out a reform of the monasteries, under which the monks were put on a communal regime. The role of the monasteries in economic, political, and ecclesiastical life grew perceptibly. The St. Sergius Trinity, Ferapontov, Kirill-Belozersk, and Solovetskii monasteries, and the Evfimii Monastery of Our Savior were among the large monasteries founded in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Antonii-Siia Monastery was established in the north in the Dvina Region in the 16th century. After the conquest of Kazan, the central monasteries founded branch monasteries in the Volga Region, hoping to convert the local population to Christianity.

According to the historian S. B. Veselovskii, there were at least 200 monasteries in Russia in the second half of the 16th century. They expanded their landholdings, bought and extorted land under the guise of accepting contributions, begged for state contributions, and seized land from neighboring chernososhnye krestiane (tax-paying state peasants). Sharp conflicts over land arose between the monasteries and the peasants. The monasteries entangled the peasantry in debt obligations. In the late 15th century and the 16th the growth of landownership by the monasteries began to trouble the grand princes, who were experiencing difficulties in finding lands to provide the service nobility with estates. At a church council in 1503 the question of confiscating church and monastic lands was raised. Subsequently, a controversy arose between the followers of Joseph of Volokolamsk (born Ivan Sanin) and the nestiazhateli (“non-possessors”; monks who objected to ecclesiastical wealth and, in particular, to monastic landownership) over whether the monasteries should be allowed to own villages populated by peasants. The Council of 100 Chapters (Stoglavyi Sobor) decided in 1551 to limit the acquisition of lands by the monasteries. In 1572 the government prohibited contributions of lands to the large monasteries. A church council held in 1581 categorically prohibited the acquisition of lands by the monasteries.

By introducing the monastyrskaia zapashka (corvée), raising imposts, and expanding their moneylending activities, the monasteries intensified their exploitation of the peasants. Peasant disturbances broke out in 1594–95 on the estates of the Monastery of Joseph of Volokolamsk, where the authorities had transferred the peasants from quitrent to the corvée and had introduced the compulsory extension of credit at high interest rates. During the Peasant Uprising under I. I. Bolotnikov (1606–07) the monasteries effectively aided the government of Vasilii Shuiskii in crushing the peasant movement.

Having recovered from the economic destruction wrought by the Peasant War and foreign intervention of the early 17th century, the monasteries again became a powerful economic and political force by the mid-17th century. Acceding to the wishes of the nobility and the elite of the posad (merchants’ and artisans’ quarter), in the Sobornoe Ulozhenie (Code of Laws) of 1649 the government of Aleksei Mikhailovich forbade the monasteries to buy estate lands or to acquire them by foreclosure. A special Monastyrskii Prikaz (Office of Monasteries) was organized. The growth of the monasteries was halted during the reign of Peter I, who brought monastery revenues under state control and forbade the monasteries to buy land. In 1764 an increase in spontaneous disturbances by monastery peasants resulted in the secularization of monastery lands, which were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Collegium of the Economy. In Kursk and Voronezh provinces, monastery lands were secularized in 1786—88. However, in the 19th century during the reigns of Alexander I and Nicholas I, the monasteries regained their plowlands and other land resources. A number of monasteries, including the Solovetskii and Spas-Evfimii, were used as prisons for persons accused of religious freethinking. There were Buddhist and Catholic monasteries, as well as Orthodox ones, in the multinational Russian Empire.

By 1917 there were 1,025 Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Russia, with about 100,000 monks, nuns, and novices. In 1910 the monasteries possessed 739,000 desiatinas (805,510 ha) of land in the 50 provinces of European Russia. They also had a substantial monetary income. The St. Sergius Trinity Monastery, for example, had an income of approximately 1.5 million rubles a year. Hostile toward the October Revolution of 1917, the monasteries were a bulwark of the counterrevolution during the Civil War of 1918–20. Under a decree issued by the Soviet government on Jan. 20 (Feb. 2), 1918, church and state were declared separate, and the property of the monasteries was proclaimed the property of the people. The monastery lands were distributed to the peasants, and many monastery buildings were converted into schools, hospitals, clubs, and museums. There are still several Eastern Orthodox monasteries in the USSR, but there is only an insignificant number of monks. The monasteries are purely religious organizations.

V. I. KORETSKII

Architecture. The architecture of monasteries reflected the variety of their functions, as well as their changing role in society. In the second half of the first millennium B.C., Buddhist monasteries were founded in India. They soon spread throughout South and East Asia. Cave monasteries, which were found chiefly in western India in Ajanta (second century B.C. to seventh century A.D.), Karli (first century B.C.), and Bagh (c. 400–700) included prayer halls (chaitya) carved out of the rock, with stupas and cells. Later, sleeping quarters (vihara), refectories, and libraries were added. The cave monasteries in China were similar to those in India (for example, Ch’ien-fo-tung, near Tunhuang, 353–366). In China the aboveground monastery, which was common in India (for example, Nalanda, founded in 427), usually consisted of a complex of temples and pagodas for prayer, habitation, and commemoration (the Ling-ku ssu in Nanking, 14th to 17th centuries) or a regular axial ensemble of contiguous courtyards and wooden pavilions used as temples. Groupings of wooden monastery buildings developed in Japan and Southeast Asia (for example, Salin in Mandalay, second half of the 19th century).

Built according to strict rules, the Lamaist temples of Tibet were surrounded by walls (for example, Samya near the headwaters of the Tsangpo River, mid-eighth century, with the main buildings arranged along an east-west axis). Usually, Lamaist monasteries were built on hillsides in the form of an amphi-theater. The first monasteries in Mongolia were built in the late 16th century in a number of styles. The circular ground plan of the khure type was influenced by the shape of nomadic campgrounds. Yurtlike wooden temples were also built, as well as monasteries in the Chinese style, the Tibetan style, and mixed styles (for example, Da-Khure in Ulan Bator, nomadic from 1651 and permanently settled from 1779; Choichzhin-Lamain Monastery in Ulan Bator, 1904–08; and the Amur-Baiaskhulantu Monastery, 17th-18th centuries). In the 18th century, Lamaist monasteries spread to Buriatia, where they were known as datsans (large, regular complexes of tiered temples and lamas’ houses) and to Kalmykia, where they were called khuruls (complexes of felt tents, wooden and stone temples, prayer halls, and houses).

The first Christian monasteries in the Eastern Roman Empire were built in Coptic Egypt in the fourth and fifth centuries (Bawit, fourth century; the White Monastery, c. 440; and the Red Monastery, fifth century). Churches (three-aisled basilicas) and quarters for living, dining, and reading were located inside ancient eastern fortresses surrounded by forbidding, high walls that narrowed at the top. This type of monastery developed in a number of countries in North Africa (the monastery at Tebessa in Algeria, fifth to sixth centuries) and southwest Asia (Qalat Siman in Syria, fifth to sixth centuries).

During the sixth through ninth centuries the architectural style and characteristic ground plan of the Western European Catholic monastery developed (for example, the Monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland, built c. 820, the ground plan of which has been preserved). The walled-in monastery with its regular layout was dominated by a church that was connected, usually at its south end, with a courtyard and a galleried cloister. Grouped around the cloister yard were the chapter house (assembly room), refectory, and dormitory (usually two-aisled halls). There was also a service courtyard with workshops and service facilities, as well as storage rooms, a hospital, and a guest house for pilgrims. Variations on this typical monastery plan were built by the various orders. The monasteries and monastery churches of the 11th and 12th centuries are among the most important examples of Romanesque architecture (St. Alban’s in England, 1077–88; Cluny in Burgundy, 1088 to the 12th century; and the Church of Maria Laach in Germany, 1093–1156). During the Gothic period monastery buildings influenced the style of secular buildings, such as asylums, hospitals, and marketplaces. As the Teutonic Order expanded, monastery-fortresses were built, in which the cloister and halls were united in a single enclosed space (for example, the Upper Castle in Malbork, Poland, late 13th to 14th centuries).

The Eastern Orthodox monasteries of Byzantium, the Balkan Slavs, Rus’, and Georgia and the Armenian monasteries had a freer, more varied ground plan which often developed over several centuries (for example, the Church of St. Savior in Chora, in Constantinople, fifth through 15th centuries; the Byzantine monastery on the Ayion Oros peninsula; Sanain; the Bachkovo Monastery in Bulgaria, llth through 19th centuries; and the Kiev-Pecherskaia Laura and the Gelati Monastery). The Complex was surrounded by turreted walls. Along the walls were the cells, and in the center were the cathedral, refectory, bell tower, and well. The architecture of the service buildings (hospitals, bathhouses, and laundries) was often influenced by folk styles.

Cave monasteries cut into cliffs have been found in Cappadocia, the Balkans, and Transcaucasia (the monasteries of David Garedzha and Gegard). As they expanded and as various structures were rebuilt, Russian monasteries became very picturesque architectural ensembles uniting the styles of many periods. When monasteries were founded or expanded, their location (at the confluence of rivers, beside a lake, on an island, and so forth), the natural surroundings, and the terrain were considered, so that the complex was integrated with the landscape. Defensive functions dictated the strength of the turreted fortress walls of the St. Sergius Trinity Monastery and the Kirill Belozersk Monastery (Kirillovo). Monasteries built outside or inside city walls formed a line of defense and were nexuses of the town plan. For example, 16th- and 17th-century Moscow monasteries such as the Don Monastery and the Novodevichii Monastery served as fortresses guarding the approaches to the capital. Until the mid-16th century the architecture of Russian monasteries was austere, but by the end of the 17th century it was enriched with picturesque traceries. The spatial composition and silhouette of the monastery were important in shaping the architectural style of various cities.

During the Renaissance, and, to an even greater degree, during the baroque period, fortress-monasteries, which were especially common in distant colonies (Actopan in Mexico, 1546–74), gave way to splendid palace-monasteries, many of which had a compact layout and were built according to a single plan (for example, El Escorial and the Melk and Smol’nyi monasteries).

In the 19th and 20th centuries only a few new monasteries were built (the Monastery of Ste.-Marie de la Tourette, Eveuxsur-Arbresele, France, 1956–59, designed by Le Corbusier). Many monasteries, both Christian and Buddhist, have become museums housing centuries-old collections of architectural treasures, sculptures, paintings, and decorative and applied art works.

M. I. ANDREEV

REFERENCES

Zverinskii, V. Material dlia istoriko-topograficheskogo issledovaniia o pravoslavnykh monastyriakh v Rossiiskoi imperil, vols. 1–3. St. Petersburg, 1890–97.
Denisov, L. I. Pravoslavnye monastyri Rossiiskoi imperii. Moscow, 1908.
Cherepnin, L. V. Obrazovanie Russkogo tsentralizovannogo gosudarstva v XIV-XV vv. Moscow, 1960.
Tikhomirov, M. N. “Monastyr’-votchinnik XVI v.” In the collection Istoricheskie zapiski, vol. 3. Moscow, 1938.
Koretski, V. I.“Bor’ba krest’ian s monastyriami v Rossii XVI-nachala XVII vv.” In the collection Voprosy istorii religii i ateizma, vol. 6. Moscow, 1958.
Budovnits, I. U. Monastyri na Rusi i bor’ba s nimi krest’ian v XIV-XVI vv. Moscow, 1966.
Il’in, M. A.“K istorii arkhitekturnoi kompozitsii russkikh monastyrei XVII veka.” In Ezhegodnik Instituta istorii iskusstv, 1954. Moscow, 1954.
Braunfels, W. Abendldndische Klosterbaukunst. Cologne, 1969.
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