José Miguel Andrade Cernadas
Old Age and Generations in Monastic Communities in Northwest Spain
Abstract The monasteries of medieval Galicia (Northwest Spain) comprised, like those of the West as a whole, intergenerational societies. Children, adolescents, adults and the elderly lived together in them. Children are only documented as having lived in Spanish monasteries until the 12th century. The older monks maintained a role of vigilance with the oblati and with the monks of other ages, ensuring internal order. Within the monasteries, elderly people could be found who can be grouped into different categories: Firstly, there were the monks who had reached old age. But there were also lay people who, having reached
an advanced age, decided to enter a monastery to spend there their last years of life, thanks to the formula of the familiaritas. The reasons that led them to make this decision varied and could include the desire for improved personal security, health care and spiritual care. This makes monasteries a kind of precedent for modern nursing homes. The panorama is somewhat different in the 14th and 15th centuries. The familiaritas has disappeared but, instead, we can show that a number of the monks managed to reach an advanced age. In this case, we can even compare the life expectancy of monks and nuns by studying the length of the mandates of abbots and abbesses. From this analysis, we can conclude that the nuns lived longer than the monks.