The name given to monastic foundations or cloisters joined together under a common superior and bound by juridical and economic bonds. When the two monasteries were occupied by the same sex, as at Wearmouth-Yarrow or Stavelot-Malmédy, or the convent of women was enclosed in its own cloister, this type of foundation presented no problem. It was normal for nuns to put themselves under the direction of noted ascetical directors and to employ male religious in the care of their spiritual and temporal necessities. The superior of a men's monastery, by virtue of his priesthood and his experience, intervened in the direction of the nuns; and at times the abbess who might be of a superior social condition (a princess) controlled the temporal possessions of the convent and governed its inhabitants. The enthusiasm that accompanied the origins of monasticism tended to promote the condition of women in accordance with Gal3.28, which suppressed the inequality of the sexes; and double monasteries took rise in this perspective. But dangers appeared when the first fervor had to be followed by juridical regulations.
St. pachomius governed a community founded by his sister in which the brothers took care of the material needs of the convent, but were forbidden to take meals there; and relations with the nuns were prudently regulated. The abundant Christian literature of the 4th century speaks frequently of the reserve with which virgins should deal with the male ascetics, in a fashion that does not supply for the absence of law; and the examples of double monasteries under St. Paula and St. Jerome at Bethlehem and of Rufinus of Aquileia and Melania the Elder at Jerusalem testify to a sane liberty similar to that encountered in Syria with the so-called "Sons of the Covenant" of the monastic settlements. The Basilian confraternities in Cappadocia, organized by St. basil on family estates, where mother and daughter set an example for their households, achieved a true unity in which children of both sexes were brought up together; but severe rules regulated communications between the grownups. St. gregory of nazianzus speaks of this type of institution without criticizing it (Epist. 238), but St. Basil had to protect against him a certain deacon who had induced a group of young women to join him in an ascetical way of life (Epist. 169–171).
justinian i in 529 demanded a rigorous separation of the sexes in monasteries (Cod. Just. 1.3.43), an order that he repeated with insistence in 539 and 546, using the term double monastery in this latter instance. The Council of Nicaea II (787) repeated this admonition and ordered the toleration of such institutions already in existence, but forbade new foundations. The patriarchs took similar measures in 810 and 1383, but without much success. Despite abuses in particular cases, the system was sustainable.
In the West in the 7th and 8th centuries there were numerous double monasteries: in Gaul at Faremoutiers, Jouarre, Remiremont, Chelles, Nivelle, and in Spain, England, and Ireland. In origin, however, this type of monastic foundation seems to have been spontaneous. The decline set in with the 9th century, but a new outbreak accompanied the spiritual movement of hirsau and of prÉmontrÉ in the 11th and 12th centuries and culminated in the Order of fontevrault. Although burchard of worms and Pope paschal II echoed the Greek law, callistus II approved the institution with the proviso that proper precautions should be observed. Opposition came from the monastic milieu itself, and only the bridgettines maintained this type of organization until the end of the Middle Ages. By regulating the enclosure of the cloister, the Council of Trent put an end to the problem; it gave some difficulty when Latin regulations were applied to the Oriental churches united with Rome, particularly at the Maronite Synod of 1736.
Bibliography: s. hilpisch, Die Doppelklöster (Münster 1928). j. dumortier, "L'Auteur présumé du Corpus Asceticum de S. Jean Chrysostome," Journal of Theological Studies NS 6 (1955) 99–102. d. knowles, The Monastic Order in England, 943–1216, 204–207 (2nd ed. Cambridge, Eng. 1962). p. schmitz, Histoire de l'Ordre de Saint-Benoît, 7 v. (Maredsous, Bel. 1942–56). É. jom-bart, Dictionnaire de droit canonique, ed. r. naz 3:972–974 (Paris 1935–65). p. dib, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 10.1:81–83 (Paris 1903–50).