The more things change the more they stay the same. Early in the last millennium there took place in Europe what historian of spirituality Richard Woods called “a mystical revolution.” In many ways this spiritual renewal in the 12th and 13th centuries was a distant mirror of what’s happening today.
Prior centuries had seen the rise of convents and monasteries, those great Benedictine, Augustinian and Carthusian institutions that preserved learning after the Roman Empire’s collapse. They offered new ways of living together, providing written “rules” that organized and shaped the nun or monk’s life. By the High Middle Ages, however, monastic institutions and convents became largely unavailable to non-aristocrats.