The Benedictine rule

JMA_Mount_StMichel_mediumAn austere Benedictine abbey and red roses. A view onto the Mt. St. Michel Abbey in the French Normandy >>>. But the first thought: ‘The Name of the Rose’, a book by Umberto Eco (and the film based upon it) about a series of murders taking place in an isolated medieval Benedictine abbey somewhere in the Northern Italy.


The book plot took place in a library full of ancient manuscripts and the so-called scriptorium – a room adjacent to the library where the Benedictines made copies of the old as well as contemporary manuscripts. As printing was not invented yet, the monk scribes rewrote those books manually. To make one copy of a book they needed months or even years. Like those monks in the novel, also the Benedictines at the St. Michel monastery rewrote manuscripts. With patience and diligence.

The tradition of diligent and patient work in the Benedictine orders (and other offspring orders) began in the VI century AD when the Benedict of Nursia wrote book on rules to be obeyed by those living in religious communities. He formulated those rules in great detail dividing them into 72 book chapters.

Among others, the monks had to live according to a strict timetable, pray and perform manual labour. The hours of labour varied with the season but it was never less than five hours a day. By manual work he meant housekeeping, farming and crafts. However, with time the Benedictines started to focus more on the intellectual work like reading, copying manuscripts and teaching. As the ‘original’ Benedictines did not always strict obey the Benedictine rules, a group of French Benedictine monks in XI century AD set up an offspring community that wanted to more strictly follow those rules and concentrate on ‘real’ manual work. This community was the predecessor of the Cistercian (otherwise Bernardine) order. Cistercians were indeed ‘the workers’ (>>>). Besides field work, they specialised in hydraulic engineering and metallurgy. The Benedictines were intellectuals. The Cistercians – the agriculture and technology masters. Benedictines could had been recognised by black choir robes worn over a habit, and the Cistercians – by a white one.

The orders maintaining the Benedict rule tradition use today the motto ‘ora et labora’ that means ‘pray and work’.

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Le Roi Soleil

Luis XIV the King of France (1638-1715) is one of the most prominent monarchs in the European history. As his reign lasted for over 70 years (technically it was around 60 years as he inherited the throne at the age of 6), he was able to influence the French policies and social life for many centuries ahead. He was known for running wars with basically all neighbours, using his family ties to actively run the foreign policy, reforming taxation and the state finances, sponsoring medical treatment and social work as well as promoting the art. Having moved from Louvre to Versailles he arranged for Louvre to be the art museum. I am sure historians would point out many other policy moves that changed the country for good or for bad. We should not forget however that only seventy years after the king’s dead the French revolution began overthrowing the monarchy and establishing the Republic.


Luis XIV, statue by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, standing in front of the Louvre

For years writers and film makers have been fascinated by intrigues and plots of the French royal court initially in Louvre and later in Versailles. Very few realise however that the fact that Luis XIV established the French court as we know it was in itself a handy political move. In past times noble families from all over Europe, basically no matter the country fought for influence making wars with each other. They often plotted against own kings. The move by Luis XIV was simple. He invited the noble or aristocratic families under his reign to practically live at or in the neighbourhood of the royal premises. Having them instantly around he controlled the plots and intrigues. Many years ago a friend of mine, who have lived in the Paris fashion world for sometime explained to me that Luis XIV is told to be the inventor of the fashion seasons. He encouraged the courtsmen to change the garment according to newest fashion trends. Besides the whole fun around the trends in fashion, this requirement was quite a political one. Instead of spending money on plots, the whole court had to constantly spend it on expensive clothing. The king controlled purses of those, who lived at the court but also filled in their itineraries. Another important side effect was boosting the fashion manufacturer’s business (clothing, shoes, various appliances and perfume) in France and abroad. The fashion industry is now a global business, but still the fashion week in Paris is the major fashion event in the world and Paris is the capital of fashion as it used to be in times of the Roi Soleil.

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Beurse. The very roots of exchange trading

For many English speakers the word ‘beurse’ would not arise any thought. But many Europeans will quite quickly associate it with exchange trading (commodity or stock trading).

The first official exchange (with written down rules and official building) for commodities and bills of exchange was established in Antwerp in the mid XVI century. Quite quickly other European trading centers followed. Half century later in 1602 the Dutch East India Company issued the first equities that quite quickly were introduced into the Antwerp trading. For further two centuries commodity exchanges shared also securities trading, till around 1800 first pure stock exchanges had been established.

However, the first official exchanges did not emerge from nowhere. In the early middle ages commodity trading at seasonal fairs was practiced in may European countries from South to North. But only at few places the trade was truly international. Later on the so called entrepot cities emerged where trade was thriving all year long. One of the main harbours that serviced that time the trading routes in Norhern Europe was Brueges. (Due some natural sea movement Bruges lost however its position to Antwerp in XVI century). So, merchants from all around Europe met in the city of Bruges to perform their trades.

Quite naturally the local inns (taverns) were their meeting point. Innkeepers provided food and shelter to foreign merchants, but also warehousing space, commercial credit (even standing surety for their debts) and references. They connected foreigners with buyers or sellers and helped to negotiate deals. One of them was an inn called ‘The Three Purses’.


The restored Van der Beurse family house, that replaced the original Three Purses tavern building. The building was sold to the Venetians and became their nation house. Although by far it was not the first and only trading place in the medieval Europe, its name is widely used in Europe to describe commodities and securities exchanges.

In front of it, at a little square local and foreign brokers met to perform their trades. If it was raining they moved inside. Or, they did so if they wanted to make their trade private. Trading in the opening was that time a condition by the local authorities, who wanted to oversee trade to later collect taxes. Trade was by far not free in the middle ages. With time the trade took place within preset hours and no non-traders were allowed to the place while the trading was taking place. The price quotations were displayed on the inn front wall. Soon foreign traders’ representations called ‘nation houses’ emerged in the vicinity of the square. The word ‘purse’ became the synonym for trading. With time the family owning ‘The Three Purses’ tavern changed their name to Van der Beuerse. (‘Beurse’ in Dutch means ‘purse’ in English).

With time, the word purse (beurse) as synonym for commodities and securities trading spread into many European languages: Börse (German), bolsa (Spanish), borsa (Italy) and bourse (French). Even the English used the word burse for almost two centuries till it was replaced with ‘exchange‘.

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