Member of the Order of St. Benedict, the confederated autonomous congregations of monks and lay brothers who follow the Benedictine Rule, created by St. Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century. The Rule spread slowly in Italy and Gaul. By the 9th century it was nearly universal in northern and western Europe, where Benedictine monasteries became repositories of learning, literature, and wealth. The order declined during the 12th–15th century, when it was revived with reforms that limited abbots to fixed terms and required monks to make their vows to the congregation rather than a particular house. The Reformation virtually eliminated Benedictines from northern Europe, and they declined elsewhere. In the 19th century another revival strengthened the order in Europe, especially in France and Germany, and led to the establishment of new congregations worldwide.