The First Monks
The word ‘monk’ comes from the Greek word "Monachos" which means ‘alone.’ Some early Christians felt the need to leave their friends and go to a lonely place where they could think about God and pray to him in peace.
In the Bible we can read about John the Baptist who lived the life of a hermit in the desert. Jesus himself went into the wilderness after his baptism so that he could be alone with God. The first monks were known as hermits. They lived in caves or shelters leading a simple life, eating only enough to keep them alive.
People who were interested in this way of life visited the hermits to find out more. Living alone did not appeal to some, so they began to form groups of men who wanted to live together working and praying to God. The groups of men became known as monks and they lived together in a monastery. Groups of women who decided to live together in this way were known as nuns.
All groups of monks who lived together followed a set of rules, collectively known as the Rule. Some groups followed different rules to other groups, although the rules were very similar. Each group became known as a monastic Order.
One of the most influential hermits was a man called Benedict. After living in a cave he decided to form a community of monks who would serve God. He drew up a set of rules so that each monk who joined him would know what to do. This was known as the Benedictine Rule. The work of Benedict was so important that he was later given the title of saint.
Groups of Benedictine monks spread throughout the world. They lived together in monasteries.
In France a group of Benedictine monks decided that they wanted to make changes to their way of living. They wanted to work harder and spend more time praying to God. They formed a new rule, known as the Cistercian Rule. Their home became known as an abbey and their leader was called an abbot. The most important abbot was a monk called Bernard, who later became Saint Bernard. Bernard had a sister who wanted to follow a similar way of life as her brother. However, women were not allowed to join a monastery so she formed a group of women who followed the Cistercian Rule. These women lived in a place called a convent.
All over the world today there are still groups of Benedictine and Cistercian monks, as well as different orders of monks and nuns.