Saturday, November 13, 2010


gyrovague, n. an itinerant monk. From the Greek gyrus- (circle, circuit) and the Latin vagus (wandering).

It's not a compliment - at least in St. Benedict's mouth. "The fourth kind of monks are those called gyrovagues, who spend their whole lives seeking hospitality in province after province, monastery after monastery, staying three or four days at a time; always wandering and never stable...Of the most wretched life of all these it is better to remain silent than to speak. Leaving these behind us, therefore, let us proceed, with the help of God, to make provision for the cenobites–the strong kind of monks." [ed. note: I've left out the worst of Benedict's characterization of the wandering monastic - which I feel safe saying does not apply to me.]

The last of Ellis Peters' wonderful mystery novels about Benedictine Brother Cadfael, Brother Cadfael's Penance, takes up this theme. Cadfael leaves his monastery, to which he's vowed stability, to go to France. His abbot worries that Cadfael will become a gyrovague. Cadfael ultimately returns, though it was a struggle and he ends doing penance prostrate on the floor of the abbey church (a place I've actually been, though Cadfael is quite thoroughly fictional).

I'm packing up to leave one more time, for a short residency in Virginia. I'm having a hard time putting my clothes into the suitcase, I've no desire to leave again quite this soon. I've ended up packing far more than I usually would, carrying along some comforts of home (hot chocolate, a vase for flowers with the notion I'll stop at the supermarket near the campus) and tons of books. And so this time I'll drive instead of taking the train. Returning via I-95 may be penance enough, no need to prostrate myself!

Photo is of Shrewsbury Abbey church. From Wikimedia commons.


  1. Oh I know this place ... the road beckoning, the call of adventure, the push of something-or-other behind me to get me going.

    And yet.

    I don't want to go!

    I look forward to your communique's about the trip .... and about your penance! (I totally agree about I-95!)

  2. Somehow I missed this post - gyrovague. Mmm, oh to be home again, I am sure you are happy to be there.