The Church under Norman rule

Monasticism under the Normans : the low spread of Reformed orders

Throughout the West, religious life in the 11th and 12th c. was in turmoil over the question of ecclesiastical reform, particularly that of the monastic orders. The Benedictines, who followed on from the Cluniacs, the great spiritual and temporal power at the turn of the millennium, extended their influence as far as Monte Cassino and Holy Trinity for example, founded at La Cava in Campania by Alferio of Salerno under the influence of Odilo, abbot of Cluny from 994 to 1048.

But corresponding more particularly to the Norman period of the history of the Mezzogiorno was the emergence of a more radical reform in the shape of St Bruno’s Carthusian monks (994-1101) and St Bernard’s Cistercians (1090-1153). Bruno was the teacher of Urban II, the pope of the First Crusade, ending his days in Calabria where a foundation, the Serra San Bruno, attests to his time there. But his order saw no major developments in the Norman Mezzogiorno. Meanwhile, the Cistercians were penalized by St Bernard’s having backed Pope Innocent II, while the Norman King Roger II obtained the crown of Sicily from the hands of the antipope Anacletus in 1130.

The new monastic spirituality in the Norman Mezzogiorno was chiefly the work of some rather marginal characters. This was notably the case with Joachim of Fiore, a Calabrian mystic who retired into the mountains of Sila, protected by Constance of Hauteville. Joachim is aknowledged to have met Richard the Lion Heart, on his way to the Holy Land, and have discussed with him matters of theology. The return to a certain eremitic ideal is also perceptible through personalities like St John of Matera († 1139), who founded the monastery at Pulsano, on Monte Gargano, or St William of Verceuil († 1142), founder of S. Maria de Montevergine, not far from Avellino, in Campania. But whilst the foundation in Palermo of a church dedicated to St John of the Hermits is certainly a pointer in this new direction of monastic spirituality, the Norman kingdom was not a land of conquest for the reformed orders.

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