For 700 years, medieval monasteries in Europe were the spiritual, agricultural, educational, legal, and administrative centers of the areas in which they were located. Following a daily routine of prayer, solitude, and physical labor, the monasteries provided a refuge from the cruel world that was Medieval Europe. In addition, it was the monks (and nuns) of these monasteries who kept alive the spark of knowledge in the West through their patient preservation and hand copying of ancient texts (both Christian and Classical). Illustrated with over 50 photos, "Monks and Monasteries: A Brief History" discusses the antecedents of the Western monastic movement (both Jewish and Christian), examines its founders and greatest influences (St. Antony, St. Benedict, St. Augustine), examines the great monastic orders in the high Middle Ages (Benedictines, Cluniacs, Cistercians, Franciscans, etc.), and finally, discusses the ebbing of the monastic movement. An appendix examines the Essenes, a possible Jewish precursor to Christian monasticism.