Monasticism is one of the most typical manifestations of medieval society, although its origins date back to the 3rd and 4th centuries. This book is a detailed account of the succession of distinct monastic experiences, describing their main spiritual and institutional features and the influence they exerted over society. The author identifies three major stages: the formative period, up to the 10th century, in which there took shape the ideal of monastic life as the only authentic form of Christian living; the period of growth, from the 10th to the 13th century, when the appeal of a cloistered existence spread among lay people and female monasticism took root; and finally the Late Middle Ages, when there emerged mendicant orders (first of all, the Franciscans), devoted not to seclusion but to living in the world. Such orders were bound to play an essential role in terms of discipline and control, for example in the struggle against heresy.
Anna Maria Rapetti teaches History of Medieval Institutions at the Ca' Foscari University in Venice.