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Life in a Monastery

How do monks live their lives?

white and brown concrete buildingWestern Monastic life began with Saint Benedict (480-547) when he started the first Benedictine Monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy, in 529AD. The monks and nuns lived in separate monasteries. Even today, little has changed in the daily routine. The daily life is still guided by the "Rule of Benedict" based on a pattern of prayer and work. The Abbot is the spiritual head of the monastery and, once they have taken their vows, monks and nuns stay in the same monastery for the rest of their lives.

The vows are promises of poverty, chastity and obedience - this means they do not own things, they stay unmarried and celibate, and promise to obey the leaders and "rules" of their order. The Bible says:

"I will praise you seven times a day". (Psalm 119:164).


"At midnight I rise to thank you." (Psalm 119:62).

So the day revolves around a pattern of eight services (offices), which include prayers, chanting psalms, Bible reading and singing. This is called the 'Opus Dei' - the 'Work of God'. A typical day looks like this:

2.00 am Matins

5.00 am Lauds

7.00 am Prime

9.00 am Terce

12.00 Sext

15.00 None

17.00 Vespers

20:00 Compline

Click here to hear about life as a monk from Brother Loarne.

Reflection Would you be able to live the life of a monk or a nun?
"Our food is scanty, our garments rough; our drink is from the stream and our sleep often upon our book. Under our tired limbs there is but a hard mat; when sleep is sweetest we must rise at a bell's bidding ... Self-will has no scope; there is no moment for idleness or dissipation … Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world. Such unity and concord is there among the brethren, that each thing seems to belong to all, and all to each ... To put all in brief, no perfection expressed in the words of the gospel or of the apostles, or in the writings of the Fathers, or in the sayings of the monks of old, is lacking to our order and our way of life."
Aelred, a monk who was Abbot of Rievaulx, Yorkshire wrote this description of his daily life.