Saints and Sinners

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Saints and Sinners
Part 2
Episode 2  |  The History Channel  |  December 15, 2018

The golden age of the British monastery was during the medieval period, when monks transformed British society and rose to a position of immense power. Fighting back after centuries of defeat and neglect, a wave of new monasteries spread across the nation, with over 500 British monastic houses established by the 14th century. Far from the inward-looking recluses of legend, monks were exceptionally creative, and became pioneers in the fields of medicine, science, scholarship, industry, farming, art and music. They didn't turn their back on the medieval world, but helped transform it. Yet as the monasteries mingled with the world outside their cloisters they began to take on its corruption. They had begun with a vow of poverty, but eventually came to own a third of the nation's land. This wealth, combined with the sins of individual monks, sealed their fate, and as the medieval period ended, the monks were on the brink of a catastrophic and total collapse. From Viking-ravaged Lindisfarne to the astonishing achievements of Durham and Peterborough cathedrals (both built for monks), from cutting-edge hospitals to the rediscovery of the oldest collection of two-part music in the world, this is a story of astonishing success and spectacular artistic achievement that proved too good to last.

The golden age of the British monastery was during the medieval period, when monks transformed British society and rose to a position of immense power. Fighting back after centuries of defeat and neglect, a wave of new monasteries spread across the nation, with over 500 British monastic houses established by the 14th century. Far from the inward-looking recluses of legend, monks were exceptionally creative, and became pioneers in the fields of medicine, science, scholarship, industry, farming, art and music. They didn't turn their back on the medieval world, but helped transform it. Yet as the monasteries mingled with the world outside their cloisters they began to take on its corruption. They had begun with a vow of poverty, but eventually came to own a third of the nation's land. This wealth, combined with the sins of individual monks, sealed their fate, and as the medieval period ended, the monks were on the brink of a catastrophic and total collapse. From Viking-ravaged Lindisfarne to the astonishing achievements of Durham and Peterborough cathedrals (both built for monks), from cutting-edge hospitals to the rediscovery of the oldest collection of two-part music in the world, this is a story of astonishing success and spectacular artistic achievement that proved too good to last.

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