This project examines the communicative decisions of a high medieval institution under pressure. For centuries, Benedictine monks had enjoyed a virtual monopoly over institutionalized religious life in Europe. From the twelfth century onwards, they were increasingly confronted with competition from new religious orders that legitimized their existence by denouncing the old monks’ limited relevance to an increasingly urbanized society. In the long run, the Benedictines were unable to counter this effectively and disappeared from the center of religious and political life.
I investigate the communicative policies that various Benedictine monasteries developed in an attempt to maintain their relevance and prominence. Monks used texts to represent themselves and others in a certain way. These should not be interpreted as neutral descriptions of a ‘historical reality’, but as tools with very specific purposes. Some communities chose to ignore the criticisms; others tried to legitimize their position within the social order; whereas yet other monasteries were pushed towards change and innovation. Their strategies were crucial to the restructuring of the religious and political landscape of medieval Europe, yet have never been systematically studied. By investigating the ‘end of the Benedictine era’ from a communicative perspective, this project will shed light on how medieval institutions reacted to the challenges of far-reaching social and religious changes.