MONASTIC ILLUMINATION

Introductory—Monasteries and their work from the sixth to the ninth century—The claustral schools—Alcuin—Warnefrid and Theodulf—Clerics and monastics—The Golden Age of monasticism—The Order of St. Benedict—Cistercian houses—Other Orders—Progress of writing in Carolingian times—Division of labour.

In the sixth century the monasteries, such as they were, necessarily kept themselves very quiet and unobtrusive. They were situated usually in out-of-the-way corners, solitudes apart from civilisation, or, at least, apart from the busy haunts of men. In the eighth century there is a marked difference. The Capitular of Aix-la-Chapelle, of 789, required that minor schools should be attached to all monasteries and cathedral churches without exception, and that children of all ranks, both noble and servile, should be received into them. Also that the larger monasteries should open major schools in which the seven sciences of mathematics, astronomy, arithmetic, music, rhetoric, dialectics, and geography, were to be taught—and this in two ways. There were to be two sorts of schools—interior or claustral, intended for monastics only, and exterior or canonical, intended for secular students. These schools were under separate scholastics or masters, and lay students were received in the exterior schools as freely and fully as in the public schools of the present time. Mabillon[18] gives a list of some twenty-seven monastic and cathedral schools, by no means confined to great or wealthy cities, but well distributed throughout the Empire.

[18] Præfat. in iv. Sæcul. 184.

In the time of Charlemagne those most in repute were Tours, St. Gall, Fulda, Reims, and Hirsfeld.

We have given the names of Alcuin and Paul Warnefrid as the chief promoters of the Carolingian Revival, but we should not omit that of Theodulf, of Orleans, the indefatigable school inspector of the time. He it was who assisted the artistic side of the movement by his ingenious contrivances as a writer and illustrator of school books. Undoubtedly it was from his suggestions that we so often find in mediæval scientific treatises of the driest kind those graphic and wonderful tabulations and edifices, labelled and turreted, which make Aristotle, Priscian, and Marcianus Capella, not only comprehensible, but attractive. Theodulf composed in simple and easy Latin verse—somewhat after the style of the Propria quæ maribus our own childhood—the description of a supposed tree of science, which he had drawn and painted, on the trunk and branches of which were the figures and names of the seven liberal arts. At the foot sat Grammar—the basis of all learning—holding on her hand a lengthy rod (ominous for the tender student). On the right Rhetoric stretched forth her hand. On the left was Dialectic. Philosophy sat on the summit; the rest being disposed according to their relative importance. The whole was explained in the Carmina de septem artibus, in which the bishop, who was one of the famous poets of the age, strove in flowery language to render these dry-as-dust studies acceptable to the youthful understanding. Theodulf was a great scholar, and assisted Alcuin in the revision of the Bible, one copy of which he himself had written whilst still Abbat of Fleury, about 790. At the beginning of this Bible is a poem in golden letters on purple, and a preface in prose, also in golden letters, giving a synopsis of the several books. The text differs somewhat from the Alcuin Bible, as it is that of Jerome before Alcuin's revision. This MS. is now at Paris. Another Bible executed to the order of Theodulf is now in the Town Library at Puy.

It seems incredible, after the efforts made by Charlemagne and his ministers for the maintenance of learning and the arts, that there should ever be any risk of a return to barbarism, but it is a fact that the dissolution of the Empire proved in certain localities the suspension of prosperity. Fortunately the monastics—especially the Benedictines—and the canons of the cathedrals still kept up the practice of copying books; but almost all the South of France, Languedoc, and Provence, always conservative, remained more or less illiterate. They produced poets and jongleurs, but seldom artists or scholars. And even in the North, where the capitular schools were most flourishing—as Paris, Reims, and Chartres—the general tendency was towards relapse. In High Germany it was even worse. In spite of all efforts of the clergy by the extension of secular schools, the laity preferred the excitement of chase and camp to the quiet humdrum of the schoolroom. Religion seemed to be regarded rather as a profession than a principle, quite right in its place, i.e. the Church and the monastery, but unsuited for active life. The wealthy land-owners, therefore, did not cease to endow religious houses or to build churches, but they left book-learning to the clerics. Accordingly the clerics and the monastics flourished exceedingly.