In the Middle Ages, monastic colleges replaced Benedictine monasteries as centres of learning. Very similar to monasteries, the colleges would teach students theology and ensure they abided by a strict code of discipline. There were more than 100 monastic colleges established between 1300 and 1530, with many go Oxford’s colleges constructed on the foundations of former monastic equivalents.
The rise of monastic colleges was prompted by a decision made in 1277; a house would be founded to provide a place of learning for monks studying Theology in Oxford. The project was financed by a tax of 2d in every mark of revenues from Benedictine monasteries in the South. Although there were some resistance, St. Benedict’s Oxford - later known as Gloucester College - was founded in 1283. By 1291, the college became the sole college for the Province of Canterbury, and monks from the province of York were also allowed to enter from 1336.
Once Gloucester College had been firmly established, it acted as inspiration for other monasteries, which went on to found additional monastic colleges at Oxford to ensure the best education for student monks.
For example, in 1291, Richard of Hoton - Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham - established Durham College in Oxford. His work on the college continued until 1381 when it was finally completed. Once open, the college provided a place of learning for Benedictine monks from the abbey in Durham.
Another college was founded by Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall, who created a place of learning for Cistercian monks in the 12th Century. In 1280, he offered to help the general chapter of the Cistercian order found a college of their monks at Rewley at Oxford. The following year, the chapter decreed “out of respect for the Earl of Cornwall” that the Abbot of Thame should be empowered to appoint an Abbot of his own choice for the house, and that Edmund’s father - Richard of Cornwall - should be remembered daily at Mass at the college.
Monasteries and their monastic colleges were disbanded in a process known as the Dissolution of Monasteries by Henry VII between 1536 and 1541. However, some of them went on to be refunded as colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, including Brasenose and Corpus Christi.
Medieval Colleges at Cambridge
"Monastic Colleges". HistoryLearning.com. 2023. Web.