Benedict of Nursia left the comfort of the life of a student in Rome in about the year 500 A.D. to seek holiness. He attracted companions in this life, and the plan of life he established for these monastics is known as the Rule of St. Benedict (c. 530). His community eventually founded the monastery of Monte Cassino, between Rome and Naples.
The Rule is summed up in the mottoe of the Benedictine Order: ora et labora, "pray and work." The monk or nun's life is divided into regular periods of sleep, prayer, rest, and physical labor. In later periods intellectual work and teaching took the place of farming, crafts, or other forms of manual labor for many - if not most - Christian monastics.
The Benedictine Order, like any organization that lasts more than 1500 years, has had high and low points. In any moment of reform dynamic Benedictine leaders turn back to a life as close to that of the Rule as they can manage.