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The abode of a community of persons living secluded from the world, dedicated to a life of asceticism and prayer in pursuit of personal sanctification, generally united under a superior to obey a common rule by vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The term covers both eremitic (hermit) and cenobitic (communal) foundations for men or for women. Following its appearance in the fourth century, the Christian monastery became an important civilizing and evangelizing force-sometimes despite the intention of the monks-especially through the encouragement given to study and the copying of manuscripts. Traditionally the monastery has sought to be self- sufficient, incorporating all the buildings necessary for community life, including its own chapel and the cloister, from which outsiders are excluded, within a walled enclosure.