By Andrew Jotischky

How did medieval hermits live on on their self-denying nutrition? What did they devour, and the way did unethical clergymen get round the ideas?

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Hermit's Cookbook: Monks, Food and Fasting in the Middle Ages

How did medieval hermits continue to exist on their self-denying vitamin? What did they devour, and the way did unethical priests get round the ideas?

Additional info for Hermit's Cookbook: Monks, Food and Fasting in the Middle Ages

Example text

4 The Syriac translation of the Lausiac History tells the story of an Egyptian monk called Paphnutios, who had sworn not to drink wine. Once, when he was living as a solitary, he was set upon by a band of robbers and tormented by them. Their idea of entertainment at his expense was to force the monk to drink wine, on penalty of death. 5 Theodosius, a Palestinian monk who followed the custom of spending the season of Lent wandering around the Dead Sea in imitation of the example of John the Baptist, scolded a disciple whom he had invited to accompany him one year, when he saw the younger monk bringing a pot and pan with him.

Wheat and barley grass, before they grow their grains, are recognized as having a similar vitamin and mineral make-up to dark-leaf vegetables, although it is the toasted or powdered grain that is most commonly consumed. However, most pertinent to the monks of the Near East is the reed – the plant that, along with melagria, was Sabas’ staple diet during his Lenten wanderings. Sabas, evidently something of a connoisseur even in this extreme situation, collected and saved the hearts of the reed. In fact, all parts of the reed, which is a species of grass that can grow up to twelve feet in places, are edible either raw or cooked.

In retrospect, the period between Athanasius’ Life of Anthony and the spread of the Arabs with their new monotheistic religion of Islam looked like a golden age. Between the fourth and seventh centuries, monasticism provided the spiritual currency of the whole of the region dominated by the Mediterranean. Monks could find, amid different customs and liturgical observances, familiar elements of their way of life from the Atlantic to the Dead Sea. The coming of the Arabs and Islam did not put an end to monasticism, but it finished the monastic commonwealth in which seekers after a holy life could wander almost at will throughout the Empire.

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