Book Review: The Benedictines in Britain

A few days ago I finished the 1980 book, The Benedictines in Britain by D.H. Turner, Rachel Stockdale, Dom Philip Jebb, and Dr. David Rogers. The Benedictines in Britain consists of a series of essays about (you guessed it!) the Benedictine monastic order in the United Kingdom during the Middle Ages. One essay covers the order during the Dissolution and another covers the order in more modern times. (I say more modern because the book was written in the 80s.)

In 1980 the British Library put on an exhibition celebrating Saint Benedict’s fifteen hundredth birthday. The Benedictines in Britain was written to accompany the exhibition. 

As I read this book in 2022, I did not see the exhibition. Due to this, my review will be about the text itself. I also could not find the exact name of the British Library’s exhibition, so I will simply refer to it as “the exhibition” from this point onwards. 

(I assume the exhibition was called “The Benedictines in Britain” but as I don’t know for sure, I won’t call it that. If I do find the name, I’ll edit this blog post accordingly and make a note I edited it.)

The Benedictines in Britain is a short book, coming in at 111 pages. The text includes a list of illustrations, a forward, seven informative essays, and a list of exhibits featured at the 1980 exhibition. 

Each essay discusses aspects of monastic life. The essays are pleasantly written and easy enough to understand. A few of the essays devolve from informative to argumentative, which was a jarring tone shift as most essays simply informed the reader about the Bendictine order. 

The Benedictines in Britain includes many black and white images of manuscripts and other pieces of art that were on display at the British Library’s exhibition. (Presumably. As previously stated, I was not there so I cannot say for sure.) There are a few color images as well. 

Each essay frequently refers to the included images. The text would be much more effective when describing/incorporating the images if they were all in color. However, I am grateful for the inclusion of photos adjacent to the text. I had a general idea of what each author meant as they described dynamic artwork, brush strokes, details, etc. 

Luckily, in the year of our Lord 2022, I can find the manuscripts’ digitized versions on the internet to see them in color. However, I’m sure the book’s intended audience could have benefited from color images after they left the exhibit. 

(Yes, I know it costs more to print books in color. According to the book jacket, it cost $12.95 in 1980 which is roughly $45 in 2022. I don’t really want to argue the logistics of a book that came out in 1980. I just think it would have been nice if all the images were in color.)

Overall, The Benedictines in Britain was a pleasant book to read. I already knew a good chunk of what was shared in the text, however, for readers who went to the exhibition without much knowledge (if any) of the Benedictine order, I believe this book would be very helpful. It was also nice to see more medieval manuscripts. I plan on using The Benedictines in Britain as another jumping off point to find more images for my medieval themed Instagram. 

Sources:

https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1980?amount=12.95

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