The Rise of the Monastic and Cathedral Schools

For modern readers, the universities stand at the center of the world’s intellectual reflec- tion and scholarly research. Yet the idea of the university had yet to develop in the ninth century; as we shall see, this new institution would not emerge until the late eleventh century. During the period 800–1100, it was schools attached to monasteries and cathedrals that began to achieve distinction as centers of scholarship.

The development of cathedral schools was often due to the educational vision of the bishop of the diocese. As the traditional educational structures of the Roman Empire began to collapse in the late fifth century, bishops made arrangements to ensure that their clergy would continue to be well educated. In part, this was a pragmatic decision, reflecting the need to have a literate clergy, capable of writing and possessing basic administrative skills. Yet it was often a decision that was also based on a love of learning, and a desire to keep scholarship alive in a time when there were limited opportunities for study and research.

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Although the earliest such cathedral schools developed in Spain during the sixth and early seventh centuries, some of the most important schools of this kind developed in England. The conversion of England to Christianity as a result of Gregory the Great’s deci- sion to send missionaries to the region created an urgent need for theological education (2.1.1). Provision had to be made for the education of clergy in a region with little recent history of Christian scholarship. Cathedral schools initially developed at Canterbury (597) and Rochester (604) in Kent, in the south of England, soon to be followed by a major school at York Minster in the north of England (627).

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