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By Andrew Jotischky

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

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

Example text

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. His own form of monasticism, however, was to be quite different from anything he had seen before. Basil persuaded his sister, Macrina, who was already committed to the unmarried life of an ascetic virgin, to live in retirement on one of the family estates with a like-minded community. He wrote a series of rules for them that, because of its deeply reflective qualities, came to be the nearest thing in Orthodox Christianity to a standard monastic rule.

This was not the purpose of authors of such accounts – for one thing, if all monks and nuns had lived such austere lives, there would be little point in singling out some for special remark. If some sources suggest that monks were almost superhuman in their capacity for personal austerity when it came to food, others indicate that quite a wide variety of foods was eaten in monasteries and by solitaries. These include beans, lentils, cabbage, olives, fish, oil, leeks and onions, garlic, cheese, buffalo milk, berries, figs, nuts, radishes, carob and a whole category of herbs and plants harvested in the wild.

This was not the purpose of authors of such accounts – for one thing, if all monks and nuns had lived such austere lives, there would be little point in singling out some for special remark. If some sources suggest that monks were almost superhuman in their capacity for personal austerity when it came to food, others indicate that quite a wide variety of foods was eaten in monasteries and by solitaries. These include beans, lentils, cabbage, olives, fish, oil, leeks and onions, garlic, cheese, buffalo milk, berries, figs, nuts, radishes, carob and a whole category of herbs and plants harvested in the wild.

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