International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

History of Vegetarianism - Europe: The Middle Ages to the 18th Century
Monasteries in the Middle Ages


Saint Benedict (?480-?547) A.D. Italian monk: founded the Benedictine order at Monte Cassino in Italy about 540 A.D. His Regula Monachorum became the basis of the rule of all Western Christian monastic orders. Feast day: July 11 or March 14
Cistercian: a member of a Christian order of monks and nuns founded in 1098, which follows an especially strict form of the Benedictine rule.
Trappist: a member of a branch of the Cistercian order of Christian monks, the Reformed Cistercians of the Strict Observance, which originated in La Trappe in France in 1664. They are noted for their rule of silence.
Carmelite R.C.Church 1. a member of an order of mendicant friars founded about 1154; a White Friar. 2. a member of a corresponding order of nuns founded in 1452, noted for its austere rule. [named after Mount Carmel where the order was founded].

Extract from an article by modern day Essenes in the USA:
Members of the [original Essene] sect wore white and followed a vegetarian diet, as do the Carmelite order of Christian monastics, also known as White Friars due to their white overmantle, and it is interesting to note that current members of that order based at Mount Carmel openly claim that Jesus was an Essene and was raised on Mount Carmel, even though the Essene scriptures are excluded from the Bible as generally promulgated by the Church.

Extract from The English: A Social History 1066-1945, by C. Hibbert, Grafton Books.

This was the period in which monasticism flourished most usefully and profitably in England, many monasteries were seats of learning and centres of art. In them noble chronicles were compiled and beautifully illuminated; charity and hospitality were dispensed; abbots were called upon to lend their wisdom to the rulers of the country; kings and nobles made gifts of land and money to respected houses and hoped in return to save their souls; schools and hospitals were established; lovely buildings were erected; the wool industry expanded as sheep, under the skillful care of the monks, cropped the grass of the dales.

Since then however, these earlier virtues of monasticism had been gradually eroded, as religious houses grew so wealthy that their income seems to have been at one time almost a fifth of the whole national income. The original strict rules imposed on the order began to be widely ignored. No longer did monks confine themselves to the cloister, observe the regulations about obedience and poverty, conscientiously say the Masses enjoined upon them by past benefactors, or pay too strict a regard to the rules framed to limit their diet.

Meat, once provided only for the sick, was now enjoyed by all in the infirmary; and when this was forbidden by papal statute, a "misericorde", "the chamber of mercy", between the infirmary and the refectory, where meat was freely allowed on the table. This, too, was prohibited by papal statute; but in 1339 the pope, recognizing that the prohibition was unenforceable, conceded that the monks might continue to relish their meat in the "misericorde" provided that only half their number did so at a time, the other half maintaining the vegetarian rule elsewhere. [Thomas Wright, The Homes of Other Days: A History of Domestic Manners and Sentiments in England, 1871]

[in the 16th Century] Erasmus, while deploring what he took to be the excesses of Martin Luther, unfavourably compared "contemptible friars" with "itinerant mountebanks" and roundly condemned the greedy monks, "gorging the carcase to the point of bursting", while scrupulously observing "a lot of silly ceremonies and paltry traditional rules". [G. M. Trevelyan, English Social History, 1946]