A Benedictine abbey traditionally has a monastic enclosure
1. The purpose of a monastic enclosure is to create a boundary or membrane between the community and wider society. St Benedict seems to understand monastic enclosure as protecting the monks from what they might experience beyond the monastic confines.
“If the porter needs help, let him be given a young brother. So far as is possible, the monastery ought to be so planned that all requirements, such as water, mill, garden and the various crafts, are all available inside the enclosure, so that there may be no need for the monks to go out abroad, for this is not at all good for their souls.”
Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 66
2. Monastic enclosure has two purposes; a) to create a safe environment for the monastic community to flourish, and b) to protect the life of the monastic community from excessive enquiry and unwelcome visitors. The community’s customary defines the enclosure. Such clear definition enables these two functions to be carried out.
To recap a) Enclosure helps the monks to keep their focus on the life of Christ in the monastic community and among the brethren. It is obvious that those in positions of leadership and service in the community must ensure that the behaviour of everyone in the enclosure conforms with norms of christian behaviour, b) Enclosure helps keep out interlopers and miscreants.
There can be an external boundary beyond which monks may not pass without permission. There is an internal boundary beyond which externs may not pass without permission. Within the enclosure the culture is characterised by the behaviour of the monks and those allowed inside.
3. One of the areas of difficulty that monks have identified in recent history is that of defining the membrane of separation between monastic community and staff. The monks need a part of the monastery where they can enjoy some privacy. It may happen that the duties of those who are be employed in the monastery or who have reasonable access to the monastery might infringe these private community areas.
4. A cathedral, abbey or priory may have a “cathedral close” or an “abbey or priory close” which is a different expression of the phenomenon of enclosure. Within the enclosure or close activities for the wider monastic community may be organised.
© Ealing Abbey, copyright 22 May 2015