Saint Anthony (c 251–356) is known as ‘the Father of All Monks’. Athanasius wrote his biography and it spread monasticism in Western Europe. He was not the ‘first monk’ but he was a Christian ascetic who went into the wilderness. The present monastery was built (c 356) on his burial site and near his retreat. Its fortified character was a response to Bedouin attacks. St Anthony gave his father’s money to the poor and ‘shut himself up in a remote cell upon a mountain’ so that ‘filled with inward peace, simplicity and goodness’ he ‘cultivated and pruned a little garden’. Presumably, the garden was his food supply and the wilderness was the subject of his contemplation. This may well be the origin of a Christian approach to gardens, seeing them primarily as functional places – not as symbolic or luxurious places. Cloister garths belong to a different tradition: they are symbolic; they probably did not have a ‘use’; they became places of luxury. See posts on Certose Cloister, Canterbury Cloister, Salisbury Cloister and a hypothesis concerning the origin of Christian monasticism. Islam does not have a monastic tradition, though there are Dervish brotherhoods, possibly because the Arabs had sufficient experience of living in deserts.
(Image courtesy Miami Love)