That’s right you heard me. Monks. Fanboys. Have you ever noticed how the majority of paintings and sculptures of monks all depict them holding a book?
Men who became monks were so obsessed with the stories of one fandom that it shaped their entire lives. They were so deeply invested that they choose to live with other fans writing fanfiction and recopying their favorites in sometimes impressive, sometimes humble monasteries, living an ascetic life, sleeping in rooms without any heat, and contemplating God, their fandom’s leading man. The painstakingly illuminated and copied books—just look at some of their work and tell me these aren’t the work of passionate geeks.
These photos were taken at Kloster Eberbach, a Cistercian monastery in the Rheingau region of Germany. The movie The Name of the Rose was filmed there (at least, parts of it were), and it happens to be pretty close to my house. It was founded in 1136, and it eventually became one of Germany’s biggest and most active monasteries.
As I walked around the grounds on a beautiful fall day, disappointed that visitors are not allowed in the library (that is apparently now a conference room? and maybe not the place of wonder I envision?), I couldn’t help but notice that there were books everywhere. Monks held books in many of the building’s outer decorations. The images of monks and other religious personnel depicted on tombs and other stones all held books, and the museum contained impressively massive metal book bindings and clasps. That was when I realized: monks were serious readers.
Re-imagining monks as the original fanboys made me see them differently. Suddenly their lives didn’t sound quite so bleak and horrible. The thought added a happy, romantic tinge to the way I thought about their days. But which one of us hasn’t drawn succor from the page during a dark time? There is strength in stories, light, nourishment.
If you are religious, please don’t be offended at my comparison. I am not poking fun at you, though I am being a bit tongue-and-cheek in my description of medieval monks. Calling someone a fan is accrediting them with the highest level of passion and devotion that I can fathom. When I think of monks’ relationship to books, I see a group of people who were deeply dedicated—to both books and stories. It is beautiful, and important, and who knows how many stories we have today only because some dude in a brown habit spent a year re-copying it. I do see the Bible is a novel of sorts (and the only novel that has been on the bestseller list for over 500 years, ba-da-bing!), but that does not make it less important. It has been one of the most powerful stories in human history. Very few stories are literal, but the good ones have always grown from some kernel of truth. We all need a different set of stories to help us understand the world.
In case you’re not convinced and need another reason to give the monks of yore a mental high five, don’t forget: those fuckers made some damn fine alcohol.