The reluctant order. A bottom-up approach to the shaping of supra-institutional structures in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Benedictine monasticism

Start - End 
2016 - 2020 (ongoing)
Department of History



This project examines the development of Benedictine congregational structures in the Reims archdiocese throughout the later twelfth and early thirteenth century by relying on a bottom-up perspective. So far, historical scholarship has perceived the construction of the Benedictine Order primarily as an ‘imposed’ papal reform repeatedly countered by Black Monk ‘particularism’, thereby neglecting the role Benedictine agents played in the shaping of local supra-institutional networks on the one hand, and underestimating their enthusiasm for reform-inspired ideas on the other. Moreover, unlike the initiatives of other religious groups, such as Cistercians and Premonstratensians, the Benedictine Order is generally regarded as a failure, irrelevant within the historical narrative of the emerging religious orders. This research seeks at altering the current discourse by means of a twofold strategy. First of all, it tries to map Benedictine involvement in congregation-building experiments during the twelfth century, thus uncovering the Black Monks’ attitude towards the order – characterized by the establishment of general chapters and visitations – as a model. Secondly, the Benedictines’ stance regarding the thirteenth-century papal reform programme will be analysed and compared with the present view of Black Monk monasteries as being independently-minded institutions. This approach will not only help to understand why the Benedictine Order never managed to reach the same level of institutionalization as its contemporary examples, but will also shed significant new light on the plurality of modes of supra-institutional organisation in Western monasticism c. 1200, and in turn will allow for a more diversified debate in future scholarship.



Phd Student(s)