Illegal undercover monks - academics uncover the secret history of English Benedictines

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New research shows the popular image of Benedictine monks might not be completely correct.

Reseach from Durham University into the activities of monks in the 16th and 17th Centuries shows that some monks fought in the English Civil War and during the French Revolution.

The stereotypical monk, cloistered away from society was not the only model during this period says academic Dr James Kelly.

His research relates to the period after the English Reformation – and the dissolution of the monasteries – meaning it was illegal to be a Benedictine monk.

'The number of English and Welsh Benedictines was actually much higher than previous records suggested, showing that despite despite its illegality, there were many who were prepared to reject the establishment and enter a life that was prescribed in their homeland,' he told the I. 'Here was a group of men who committed to an illegal way of life and exerted religious, cultural and political influence from the continent.'

The researchers have brought together a database of all the records held by various institutions, meaning that individual Benedictines lives can be traced. It's claimed that some didn't keep their vows of abstinence, while others even died in duels. The English government is even thought to have sent spies into their institutions to keep an eye on the monks activities.

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