World-Building Wonders – Medieval Monastic Orders
Since I was a child, the Middle Ages have sparked my imagination, serving as a source of inspiration for my writing. Though my Christian Fantasy series, the Wind Rider Chronicles, is set in a fictional world, it felt very natural for me to give it a medieval flavor—taking some of the historical elements I find most fascinating and making them my own.
One of those elements is the existence of monastic orders, and the extremely important role they played in medieval society. They were the keepers of knowledge, they copied and interpreted Scripture, blessed and preserved sacred relics, served as spiritual and academic learning centers, provided charity to the poor, and healed the sick among other things. I could not imagine building my fantasy world without a formal institution designed to serve in this same capacity.
Mine of course is not identical to the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, nor do my monastic orders represent any specific ones that existed. My world has its own unique history and religious traditions. The story is allegorical, exploring the lessons and truths of Christianity through the lens of pure fantasy.
But just like the real ones that inspired them, my monastic orders aren’t perfect. They are run by fallible people, who are doing their best to serve God (Aviad) with their lives, even when they fall short. I created three main orders, each one tracing its origins back to my world’s creation story, and each with its own special qualities.
Here is a very brief behind-the-scenes glimpse into the main monastic orders influencing my world; the information taken from my own private notes, and not necessarily obvious in the narrative of the books…at least not yet.
The Order of Aviad:
They are the keepers and preservers of ancient spiritual tomes, books of knowledge, music, and liturgy. They tend to have a more formal approach, guided by the teachings of Aviad’s law. This order is well known for building great temples and monasteries with lavish materials and decorations. They rely heavily on wealthy patrons, including lords who wish to become priests or monks, and the royal family, to maintain that level of communal wealth. Their internal power structure is very hierarchical. The priests and monks take vows of celibacy and also of poverty, but the vow of poverty only applies to individuals, not to the order itself.
The Order of Immar:
They primarily serve their immediate community through charity, healing, and less formal teaching (common songs, parables, plays, etc.) intended to reach ordinary people. Monks from Immar’s Order are not required to be able to read or write. Knowledge is kept alive largely through oral tradition, and there are strict standards in that regard so that teachings maintain their integrity. This order has very few monasteries. The monks tend to live in small, simple, farm-based communities, and they are well known for their extensive herb gardens and medicinal knowledge. They firmly believe that they must fully support themselves so as not to be a burden on those whom they serve. Striving to be free of all political obligations, they do not enlist patrons for support. Their poverty vows include communal property, and they keep only what they need to sustain themselves and adequately serve the surrounding area. Celibacy is required by both men and women who commit themselves to serve this order. There is some hierarchy, but it is mainly on a local level for the purposes of organization and spiritual accountability.
The Order of Emeth:
This order is the most mysterious of the three, the smallest, and the most loosely organized. There is no hierarchy to speak of, and celibacy is only required of certain groups within this order, not all. It is devoted to locating and preserving tomes and relics that have been lost to the ages. Truth and righteousness are the focus of their teachings and daily practice. Ancient writings, prayer, dreams, and visions are all vitally important to this order, much more so than ritual, liturgy, or charity. They have a heightened awareness of the spiritual warfare going on beyond humanity’s sight.
The Guardians of the Ancients is the most notable sect of this order. They have recovered and preserved a sizeable number of ancient tomes, relics, and historical items, maintaining secret underground libraries to house them. To keep the library locations secret, some members of the order have pledged to spend their lives underground, cataloging, preserving, studying, and copying the old tomes. Others become traveling teachers of the knowledge they contain, preaching and encouraging the population to turn back to the old ways before it is too late.
With the exception of the Guardians of the Ancients, Emeth’s Order does not live in monastic communities. Neither do they hold land or accumulate wealth, though there is no requirement of poverty. They are of the belief that it is too difficult to reach the normal population with their message from the confines of a monastery. They prefer to live among the people as one of them. Many practice a normal trade, even marry and raise families as they continue to preach. Those who are called to a cloistered life seek the cooperation of Aviad’s and Immar’s orders, living among their monks in monasteries or small communities, but maintaining their own distinct beliefs and way of life.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this small view of my world building from behind the curtain. Those who have read my books will no doubt recognize each of these monastic groups as they have made their appearance in the larger story I’m weaving.
Allison D. Reid is a Christian Fantasy author with a fondness for Medieval history. Her first published series, the Wind Rider Chronicles, embraces traditional fantasy elements but is also infused with deeper spiritual themes. Learn more about the author on her website https://allisondreid.com or listen to a live radio interview on By the Fireplace. Her first book, Journey to Aviad, is now free in ebook format everywhere.
Elowyn lifts a strange silvery object from a woodland stream. Is it a medallion? A coin? Looking about curiously, she also finds a helm, a bow, broken arrows…and blood drenched soil. Something terrible has happened in this usually peaceful wood. Her world—the whole world—is about to change forever…
The Kinship rides victorious into Minhaven, bringing both hope and distressing news. Though its greatest threat has been defeated, a new one is emerging—an enemy not seen for hundreds of years. Has Braeden’s cruel reach followed Elowyn into this remote wilderness? If so, there is no place left to run, and the Kinship is facing an enemy more sinister and powerful than they can possibly imagine.