Hermit's Cookbook: Monks, Food and Fasting in the Middle by Andrew Jotischky

By Andrew Jotischky

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

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

Example text

Any family or individual could found a monastic community on private land. This is what seems to have happened in a number of cases in Asia Minor. Monasticism here emerged toward the end of the fourth century, under the influence of a particular group of landowners in Cappadocia. The guiding light behind it was Basil of Caesarea. Born into a prominent landowning family, Basil was educated according to the traditional classical syllabus in Constantinople. Before becoming bishop of his home town, Basil travelled through Palestine and into Egypt to study the example of ascetics in the Judaean desert and Skete.

For this reason, details of everyday life as it was lived by the monks flash vividly before us even today – what the monks ate and wore, their living spaces and, above all, their conversation provide the materials of their simple but powerful spirituality. Although the Apophthegmata was first written down in Greek, and in fifth-century Palestine rather than Egypt, it certainly reflects an older Coptic oral tradition. But the Apophthegmata proved so influential that similar collections were made in Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic and Ethiopic – languages that describe a geographical arc around the monastic landscape of the Near East.

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.

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