Anatomy of a Monastery – The Cloister

The Cloister, Rievaulx Abbey

The Cloister, Rievaulx Abbey

Last week I wrote about monks borrowing books from the monastery library, but not reading them there. That’s because they read them in the cloister: the square/rectangular/odd-four-sided space around which the most important buildings were gathered.

Monks had two hours of spiritual reading (Lectio Divina) a day. Their reading would not have been a private matter, however, as silent reading was not encouraged, nor was it the normal practice in the Middle Ages. Reading was generally done aloud, usually with an audience. The monks probably couldn’t choose a book, but had one assigned to them. Whether it was their own choice or not, whatever they borrowed was recorded and they had to return it within a certain time period. Many books were stored in the book cupboard in the cloister and some monasteries never needed more than this one cupboard in which to keep their books.

Easby Abbey refectory and cloisters

Cloister and Refectory, Easby Abbey

The central part, the cloister garth, was uncovered, but the cloister itself was covered and enclosed. It was also the place where the monks worked, taught, walked and meditated. In some monasteries the cloister garth was a lawn, in others it was a herb or vegetable garden. In Cistercian monasteries it was the burial ground. Some monasteries had their lavatorium here and most monasteries had a well.

Where possible, the cloister was on the south side of the church. The floors were covered with rushes or matting, which must have helped with the cold. Some monasteries allowed braziers to be lit on very cold days, but most cloisters were unheated. At night, lamps burned in the cloister. I’m not sure why, since no one was supposed to be there then and access to anyone who didn’t belong to the monastery was severely restricted at all times.

rpt

Reconstructed Cloister Arcade, Rievaulx Abbey

The exterior walls of the surrounding buildings formed the interior walls of the cloister. The exterior wall was usually in the form of an arcade, allowing as much light as possible into the cloister. The church wall of the cloister was lined with carrels where the monks studied, except in Carthusian monasteries where the monks studied in their own cells.

A carrel was made of stone or wood and was an enclosed space. They had rooves, or canopies, and doors to keep the drafts out. There was enough space in each for a bench and a desk. In some monasteries there were additional carrels along other walls.

The cloisters, Roche Abbey

The Cloister, Roche Abbey

The novices were often taught on the western side of the cloister and, in Benedictine monasteries, the southern side held the scriptorium, where books were copied.  In some monasteries the scriptorium wasn’t in the cloister, but in a separate room, usually on an upper floor. The scriptorium was located so that it would receive as much light as possible. Some monasteries had carrels in the scriptorium, others did not.

Copying books was considered to be a good thing for monks to do, because they could do it in silence. Books weren’t just copied; most were also illuminated and painted. Books were produced in places besides the monasteries, but the monasteries were the main source, at least until the development of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century.

The cloister at Easy Abbey is a very odd shape, due, I think, to the site, which is very uneven. It has three shorter sides and one long side. Sadly, this hasn’t come out in my photographs.

Easby Abbey cloister towards church

The Cloister and Part of the Church, Easby Abbey

The cloister at Rievaulx was one of the largest built by the Cistercians in England.

rpt

The Cloister and Refectory, Rievaulx Abbey

The cloister also had a part to play in the offices. It was used on some occasions for processions before the monks entered the church.

Sources:
The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
Rievaulx Abbey by Peter Fergusson, Glyn Coppack, Stuart Harrison and Michael Carter

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

 

12 Comments

Filed under Medieval Buildings, Medieval Monks, Monastery, The Medieval Church

Anatomy of a Monastery – The Library

rpt

The library, Rievaul Abbey

If I was surprised by the size of the chapter houses I’ve seen, I was dumbfounded by the size of the libraries. I had anticipated huge spaces, but they were tiny.

All monasteries had a library, but they weren’t necessarily very large, not to start with, at least. In the early Middle Ages, all of a monastery’s books could be kept in a single cupboard. Eventually, however, they needed a room to themselves. From the end of the fourteenth century in many monasteries, that room had to be quite large. By the end of the Middle Ages, even a fairly small monastery could have 1,000 books. The monastery at Canterbury had over 4,000.

Most of the monasteries I’ve visited recently are Cistercian. As you can see from the photograph of the libraries at Rievaulx Abbey above and Roche Abbey below, their libraries tended to be narrow spaces between the north transept of the abbey church and the chapter house. All Cistercian monasteries were laid out on the same plan, with some accommodation being made for the geography of the site and the size of the monastery, so they all had fairly small libraries.

rpt

The Library, Roche Abbey

In monasteries of other orders, the libraries eventually became quite large and there would be additional cupboards of books located around the monastery: in the church, the refectory and the infirmary. Like the dormitories, these larger libraries were often on upper floors.

Books were both valuable and rare, even more so in the early Middle Ages. Before the invention of printing in the fifteenth century, every book had to be written by hand. The books in a monastic library were either copied in the monastery’s own scriptorium or were the gifts of benefactors. The armarius was responsible for both the library and the scriptorium. Monks could borrow books for their own use from the library and there was time set aside each day for them to read. They didn’t read in the library, but, mainly, in the cloister.

Reading was an important activity for a monk. As a minimum, a monastery had books for the offices and some complete Bibles. The libraries typically held individual books of the Bible for personal study. These often had notes or commentaries written in the margins. Works of the Church Fathers (such as St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome) were also held, as were histories; lives of saints; classical texts; books of sermons; meditations; and treatises on medicine and agriculture.

In the thirteenth century, Rievaulx Abbey had 225 books, of which 22 survive. Two catalogues from that time are extant and they list legal works; histories by Bede, Henry of Huntingdon and Eusebius; philosophical works by Cicero and Boethius; books by Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the founders of the Cistercian order; and works by former abbots and monks of the monastery.

Many books from monastic libraries were burned during the dissolution of the Monasteries, although some libraries were just broken up, with the books ending up in private hands. Fortunately, men like Sir Robert Cotton recognised the importance of these books and collected and preserved as many of them as they could. The collection of Sir Robert, his son and his grandson later formed the basis of the British Library.

Sources:
The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
Rievaulx Abbey by Peter Fergusson, Glyn Coppack, Stuart Harrison and Michael Carter
Roche Abbey by Peter Fergusson
The Medieval Monastery by Roger Rosewell

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

 

27 Comments

Filed under Medieval Buildings, Medieval Monks, Monastery, The Medieval Church

Anatomy of a Monastery – The Chapter House

Chapter House, Rievaulx Abbey

One of the things that surprised me when I started looking properly at monasteries was how small the chapter houses tended to be. The chapter house was the second most important building in the monastery and was usually located near to the most important: the abbey church. All the monks gathered inside it once a day. You can see why I was expecting them to be large.

Not only did the monks meet here daily, but it was also the place where important guests were received and where monks took their vows.

It was called the chapter house because a chapter of the rule governing the monastery was read aloud to the assembled monks each day. This wasn’t necessarily the Rule of St. Benedict, although it was the most common. The Augustinians, for example, were governed by the rule of St. Augustine of Hippo.

Pope Benedict XII decreed in 1344 that in all monasteries where there were more than six brothers there should be a daily meeting with all of them present. This had been the practice in many large monasteries from the eleventh century.

The monks usually met after the office of Prime. The abbot sat on a raised seat with the obedientiaries either side of him. There were stone benches along the walls where monks could sit during the meeting, although the seating was usually insufficient to allow everyone to sit down. In some monasteries, such as Rievaulx (shown above), the seating was tiered and could accommodate most of the community.

The meeting began by remembering the martyrs who were being celebrated on that day. Then there were prayers for the dead, with particular emphasis on those who had been benefactors of the monastery. A chapter of the rule was read aloud and the abbot or the prior addressed the monks. After that they dealt with the monastery’s business. The monks were allocated their weekly duties; correspondence was discussed; and reports from the monastery’s officials were read. These reports were about the running of the monastery itself and its estates. Visitors were present sometimes for this first part of the meeting.

rpt

Chapter House, Roche Abbey

The final part of the meeting took part in private and was mostly concerned with the discipline of the community. Brothers might be accused by others of failing to comply with the rule, or they might accuse themselves. Every member of the community, except the novices, was allowed to speak in this part of the meeting.

In his Rule, St. Benedict took a fairly compassionate approach to discipline that wasn’t necessarily put into practice in medieval monasteries. He said that a monk should be warned privately by a senior monk if he was found to be at fault and he allowed for the monk to be warned twice before any action was taken. Only after that was his fault to be made public. If he still went his own way, he was to be punished. This punishment might be a beating or it might be exclusion from the common life for a while. The monk was said to be excommunicated, because he was no longer in communion with his brothers. He ate alone and wasn’t allowed to lead in any part of the offices. For more serious faults, the monk would not be permitted to talk to the other monks. St Benedict said that it was the abbot’s responsibility to help the non-compliant monk to see his fault and to amend both his behaviour and his attitude. The ultimate punishment was to the expulsion of the recalcitrant monk from the monastery. Failures of discipline were taken seriously because obedience was one of the main requirements of the monastic life.

Most breaches committed by medieval monks were things that we would consider relatively minor, such as not keeping silence or neglecting to give alms. More serious faults included blasphemy and rebellion. These were the kind of failures that might require more than a warning from a senior monk.

The abbot decided the case and any punishment was announced to the assembled brothers. If the punishment was a beating, it would be carried out there and then, with the whole community as witness. Other punishments included putting the monk on a diet of bread and water or demoting him.

The monks were not permitted to talk about anything discussed in the chapter house outside of it and there were strict rules about how discussions within in were to take place. For example, the monks were to speak clearly so that everyone could hear them. When one monk was speaking, everyone else was to be silent. Only the abbot could interrupt when someone was speaking.

Sometimes chapter houses were used for secular meetings by local authorities. The King’s Court, the predecessor of Parliament, met in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey.

When a monk died, his body was taken to the chapter house to rest before it was buried in the monastery cemetery. Abbots had the privilege of being buried beneath the chapter house.

Sources:
The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
Life in a Monastery by Stephen Hebron
The Rule of St Benedict in English
Rievaulx Abbey by Peter Fergusson, Glyn Coppack, Stuart Harrison and Michael Carter

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

18 Comments

Filed under Medieval Buildings, Medieval Monks, Monastery, The Medieval Church

Anatomy of Monastery – The Dormitory

Day room, Rievaulx Abbey

The day room, Rievaulx Abbey. The dormitory was above this room.

Having looked at a building that adjoined the dormitory last week, it’s time to look at the dormitory itself.

When you visit monastic ruins, you’ll often see signs saying ‘Dormitory Above’ or ‘Dormitory Over’. Dormitories were on the first floor, or second if you’re American, and haven’t tended to survive. Sadly, that means that I can’t show you any examples of extant dormitories. Some do exist, but not in the monasteries I’ve visited. That’s why my single photograph illustrating this post doesn’t even show a dormitory.

As I mentioned last week, another name for the dormitory is dorter, which is something else you might see on the signs. It had two sets of stairs: the night stairs leading into the abbey church and the day stairs. The latter usually came out into the cloister.

It was a long room, usually lit by a single light at night. All the monks slept in the same dormitory. One of the exceptions to this were the Cistercian houses where the lay brothers had a separate dormitory to the monks, in a different part of the monastic site. At Fountains Abbey, up to 400 lay brothers could sleep in the space provided. The other exception was the Carthusian order, whose monks slept in individual cells.

Privacy wasn’t much of a thing in the Middle Ages. Had it been, however, it’s unlikely that monks would have been permitted to enjoy it. Some orders did allow the dormitory to be partitioned into cubicles towards the end of the Middle Ages, but only the Carthusians allowed the monks their own cells for sleep.

These days, we’re encouraged to sleep in unheated bedrooms, but that was fairly unusual in the Middle Ages. In large houses and castles, the servants slept in the hall where there was usually a fire, and kings and lords slept in solars which also had a fire. In poorer houses people mostly slept in the same room as the fire or nearby. It must have been a shock for a monk to have to sleep in a room with no heating at all. Some dormitories were built over the day room, however, where there was at least one fire burning during the daytime in winter. The monks sleeping above it might have benefited from some residual heat.

In the early days of monasticism all the monks, including the abbot, slept in the dormitory, but that changed over the years. At first the abbot was allowed his own bedchamber; later he had a separate building to himself.

The monks removed only their outer garments for bed, sleeping in their habits. St. Benedict had prescribed that they sleep on a mattress with a blanket, a coverlet and a pillow.

Talking in the dormitory was forbidden and it was patrolled at night to ensure that the monks were quiet and that no illicit candles were burning. That would be the job of the circator, whom we met last week.

Sources:
The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
The Medieval Monastery by Roger Rosewell

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

14 Comments

Filed under Medieval Buildings, Medieval Monks, Monastery, The Medieval Church

Anatomy of a Monastery – The Latrine Block

Latrine block, Rievaulx Abbey 2

Latrine Block, Rievaulx Abbey

During visits to monastic ruins I’ve often seen signs saying ‘Reredorter’ and I never quite understood what it meant. The dorter was where the monks slept, so I thought the reredorter must be something to do with that. It is, indeed, something to do with monk’s dormitory, but in a way I hadn’t considered.

The original name for the reredorter is the domus necessaria or necessary house – the latrine. Despite its Latin appearance, reredorter was a creation of the Victorians, possibly because they preferred a euphemism. The necessary house was usually an extension to the dormitory, or was built at right angles to it. The latrines were on the first floor, accessible only via the dormitory.

Drainage channel, Rievaulx Abbey

Drainage channel, Rievaulx Abbey

Some monasteries had complicated systems of pipes and drains to move both clean and waste water around the site efficiently. Others simply built their latrines as close to running water as possible. The latrines at Roche Abbey were sited above the stream. Those at Rievaulx were at the bottom of the slope where it was the last collection point before the drainage system took the waste to the nearest river.

The latrines, Roche Abbey
The latrines, Roche Abbey

Some monasteries discovered the hard way that they had built the latrine block in the wrong place and it had to be rebuilt. Sometimes that would mean rebuilding the dorter and other buildings as well. In other monasteries, the dorter and the latrine block were connected by a bridge.

Latrine drain, Rievaulx Abbey

Latrine drain, Rievaulx Abbey

In Cistercian monasteries, the lay brothers slept in their own dorter and had a separate latrine block. Some monasteries had huge latrine blocks. The one at Canterbury could accommodate 55 monks at one time.

We come now to another role in the life of the monastery, one that I’d never heard of before I started reading about latrines. The circator went round the buildings at night looking out for monks who were doing things they shouldn’t be. His unofficial role was to wake up, discreetly, any monks who had fallen asleep in the latrine block.

The latrines were usually a series of cubicles separated by partitions of stone or wood, so that the monks couldn’t see one another. Each cubicle had a wooden seat and a window.

Latrine Muchelney 4

Latrine, Muchelney Abbey

You can see from this photo taken inside the latrines at Muchelney Abbey where the seats would be fixed. The building has changed so much in the last five centuries that no one is quite sure how the drainage worked, but it’s believed that these arches were part of the outflow system.

Latrine Muchelney

Latrine outflow, Muchelney Abbey

One of my sources says that there were restrictions on monks using the latrines, so they carried portable urinals, whose contents were used for bleaching cloth or tanning animal skins. It’s probably best not to think about that too much.

Sources:
The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
The Medieval Monastery by Roger Rosewell
Muchelney Abbey by John Goodall

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

28 Comments

Filed under Medieval Buildings, Medieval Life, Medieval Monks, Monastery

Anatomy of a Monastery – The Lavatorium

The refectory, Roche Abbey

The refectory, Roche Abbey

It’s a bit of a myth that people in the Middle Ages were dirty. We know from contemporary instruction books that fairly high standards of hygiene that were expected at mealtimes at least. Much has been made, however, of the fact that instruction books were needed at all. This must mean, say some, that there were many people whose standards of behaviour and cleanliness were lower than they should have been, and that’s probably true. The same thing applies today, however. We would not need such reminders as ‘Now wash your hands’ in public toilets if everyone complied with that basic hygiene requirement. I would suggest that we accept that, as far as they were able, most people in the Middle Ages did wash their hands before meals.

Instruction books for monks also included directions about cleanliness. The wonderfully-named ‘Babees Book’ was written to instruct the novices at Barnwell Priory. It includes the instruction “The youthful monk is bidden to wash his hands before meals.” Given that some monks in the early days of monasticism could be children, such an instruction is not unexpected. Even these days it’s difficult to get young boys to wash their hands. In the Middle Ages, food was eaten with a knife and fingers from a common dish. Dirty hands would not have been welcome at the table. The place where monks washed their hands was the lavatorium. Don’t confuse this with the latrine, which we’ll come to later. This was a place for washing only.

The lavatorium was usually by the entrance to the refectory, but it was sometimes in the open area surrounded by the cloisters. Wherever it was, the lavatorium had a roof and was large enough to allow access to several monks at the same time. I’m not entirely convinced that I’ve captured what remains of the lavatorium at Roche Abbey in the photograph of the refectory above, as I wasn’t looking for it at the time, but it’s on the left in the middle distance if it’s there at all. Here’s a link to a wonderful example of a lavatorium at Wenlock Priory, which I’ve seen several times but don’t seem to have photographed.

The lavatorium at Roche Abbey was fed by a spring. The water travelled through pipes that filled a shallow basin running along the wall. The basins and troughs in lavatoria would have been lined with lead. The lavatorium was also used on Saturday afternoons when the abbot washed the monks’ feet as a mark of humility. This was supposed to be done in all monasteries, but given a growing tendency for abbots to live in a separate building in the monastic grounds as the Middle Ages went on, I suspect it was a practice that fell increasingly out of use.

Not only was the lavatorium at Roche Abbey filled with water from pipes, but there were also drains to take the water away. Dirty water wasn’t allowed to stand for long. This was the case in most lavatoria.

The monks washed and shaved here after Prime each morning. They shaved in order of seniority, with the senior monks benefiting from the hot water and sharp razors. Clean towels were kept nearby. It was the job of the fraterer to ensure that there were sufficient clean towels ready for use.

The photograph below is irrelevant to this post’s subject, but I was very taken with the little bridges over the stream that runs through Roche Abbey and I doubt they’ll come up again.

Bridges over the stream, Roche Abbey

Bridges over the stream, Roche Abbey

Sources:
The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
Roche Abbey by Peter Fergusson and Stuart Harrison
Life in a Monastery by Stephen Hebron
The Medieval Monastery by Roger Rosewell

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

14 Comments

Filed under Medieval Buildings, Medieval Monks, Monastery, The Medieval Church

Anatomy of a Monastery – The Refectory

Refectory, Rievaulx Abbey 3 (2)

After the abbey church, the second largest building in a monastery was the refectory, or frater. It was here that the monks gathered for their meals. They ate together, so, like the church, the refectory had to be large enough to accommodate all of them.

Monks had breakfast after the first Mass, between 7 and 8 a.m. Before each meal, they washed their hands in the lavatorium. Handwashing was part of the mealtime ritual in all large households in the Middle Ages; it wasn’t just monks who did this. We’ll look at the lavatorium itself in a later post.

The monks ate in silence, standing up, listening to a monk reading from the Bible. There was a pulpit in the refectory and one of the senior brothers would read aloud during every meal. The reader asked for the meal to be blessed before they ate. At the end of the meal, the monks prayed silently for those who had been the monastery’s benefactors.  Breakfast was a very small meal.

The mixtum was a mid-morning meal of a piece of bread soaked in beer, for the elderly, the infirm and young novices who struggled with the period of fasting until the main meal in the afternoon. When I first read about this, I wondered about the young boys for whom this was a problem, then I realised that they were probably quite young, at least in the early centuries of monasticism in England. There came a point when children were no longer permitted to enter monasteries as novices, but when they were, these boys would have been up since the middle of the night, mostly on their feet. They, like the old and infirm, would have been very tired and very hungry by mid-morning.

Like everything else in the monastery, the timing of meals depended on the season – liturgical as well as temporal. In some monasteries, there was only one meal eaten just after noon in some seasons and around 3 p.m. in others. During Lent, it was eaten at dusk. During the summer, when it was eaten around noon, there was usually a light supper at sunset.

Before the meal, grace was sung and the monks were silent while they ate. In order for the meal to pass in an orderly fashion and to allow the monks to listen to the reading, they developed sign languages so that they could assist one another as necessary. It would have been very distracting and noisy if they had had to walk around the table helping themselves to food and drink. Instead, they had hand signals which indicated what it was they needed so that the brother nearest the item could pass it to them.

Easby Abbey refectory 2

Refectory, Easby Abbey

Monks’ diets varied according to their order. Some were more restrictive than others. St. Benedict had forbidden meat to all but the sick and infirm, but meat was permitted to everyone by the fourteenth century on the grounds that total abstinence from meat was harmful. I’m sure I’m not the only vegetarian who would quibble with that idea. The Carthusians, however, continued to do without meat entirely and the Cistercians only allowed it to be eaten in the infirmary and the guest house. It was cooked in a separate kitchen.

This main meal was supposed to be made up of two courses of cooked vegetables plus bread and beer, or a little wine on a festival day.  St Benedict had only permitted two courses in case some monks were not able to eat one of the dishes. He also allowed a pound of bread a day for each monk, which sounds quite substantial to me. These two courses could be vegetables, fish, eggs, pottage, bread, sometimes fruit and cheese, or meat, depending on where and when in the Middle Ages it was eaten. The meat would have been beef or pork.

Everything you’ve ever learned about fat monks is only partially true and only for a relatively short period. By the fifteenth century it’s possible that some monks were eating as well as, if not better than, any secular lord. It was one of many transgressions against St. Benedict’s rule that made it fairly easy for Henry VIII to dissolve the monasteries. St. Benedict had very definite views on gluttony. He wrote, “Nothing is so inconsistent with the life of any Christian as overindulgence”.

In some monasteries there was a high table where the abbot and the prior sat with their guests, who always had a better meal than the monks. In some monasteries, their meals were prepared in a separate kitchen. Guests were allowed to talk a little. This seating arrangement was a reflection of what happened in the halls of manor houses and castles up and down England. In the same way, the monks sat at long tables that ran along the two longer walls of the refectory. They sat with their backs to the walls facing one another across the width of the room, just as they would have done in the secular world. Those who were serving could move around the space in the middle and place things easily on the tables.

As in secular houses, the seating at mealtimes was hierarchical and the most junior members were closest to the door, away from the high table. Novices had their own table and sometimes ate in a separate room. In either case, they ate under the eye of the novice master.

I said that we would discover some more roles for monks as we went around the monastery and here are a couple of them. The food was served by a discarius in a small monastery and by servitors in larger ones. These were not permanent roles; the monks took it in turns to serve in the refectory. When the meal was over, they, and the monk who had been reading aloud from the pulpit, ate with the kitchen staff.

Refectories were usually built over undercrofts where the monastery’s provisions were stored. You can see the demarcation very clearly in the photograph below. The quality of the stonework in the refectory is much better than that in the undercroft.

Undercroft and refectory, Rievaulx Abbey

Undercroft and refectory, Rievaulx Abbey

The pulpit in the refectory was usually set in a window bay reached by stairs enclosed by the wall. The reader read for the whole week. The monks prayed for him on Sunday, the day on which his period of service began. He read from the Bible, all of which was read aloud at over the course of a year. Sometimes he also read from commentaries on the Bible.

Refectories were so grand that one of them is serving as a parish church in Beaulieu. The stone pulpit is still in use.

 

Sources:
The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
The Rule of St Benedict in English

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

17 Comments

Filed under Medieval Buildings, Medieval Monks, Monastery, The Medieval Church

Anatomy of a Monastery – The Abbey Church

Abbey Church Diagram

Now that we’ve examined the monks, it’s time to dissect the monastery itself and we’ll begin with its heart: the abbey church. The church was the largest and most important of the buildings within the monastery. The monks spent between six and nine hours a day there in the opus Dei – the work of God. The opus Dei was made up of prayers, liturgy, and chants or plainsong.

For the first office of the day, at 2 a.m., the monks would get up in the dark. Night stairs connected the monks’ dormitory to the church so that they didn’t have to go outside in the middle of the night. For the other offices they used the main entrance to the church.

The church was in the shape of a cross. As far as the ground on which they were built would allow, the presbytery at the head of the cross was to the east, with the arms north and south. The presbytery housed the main altar and was the most important part of the church, for it was where the Mass was celebrated.

Lay people were keen to be buried in the abbey church as near to the altar as possible. Such a favoured position was reserved for patrons of a monastery, as shown below at Easby Abbey. These tombs are in the nave.

Easby Abbey Scrope family niches

Scrope family niches, Easby Abbey

All churches and chapels had a piscina by the altar in which the priest washed the cups and other vessels used in the Mass.

Piscina, nave, Rievaulx Abbey

Piscina, Rievaulx Abbey Church

The nave ran from west to east. The name comes from the Latin for ‘ship’, presumably because a nave resembles the hull of an upside-down ship. Naves could be made wider by adding aisles.  The naves in abbey churches were unusually long and were used for processions as part of the offices.

The photograph below was taken from the presbytery at Rievaulx Abbey, behind the altar. You can see how the nave stretches away into the distance.

Nave, Rievaulx Abbey

Nave, looking west, Rievaulx Abbey Church

The transepts formed the arms of the cross, one to the north and one to the south.  Architecturally, they were buttresses preventing the weight of the tower above from pushing the walls out. Not every abbey church had a tower where the transept and the nave intercepted, but most of them did. The night stairs usually came down into the south transept.

The photograph below shows the transepts and the presbytery at Rievaulx from the nave.

rpt

Abbey Church, Rievaulx Abbey

Many churches had chapels within the body of the church. These were for private Masses, which became important as the percentage of monks who were priests grew as the centuries passed. Priests believed that they had to say Mass every day, so more altars were needed to accommodate them. This was also where the Masses for the dead were offered. The relatives of a dead person would give the monastery large sums of money to ensure that prayers were made for the soul of the dead person in perpetuity. This would reduce the time that person spent in purgatory.

As always, you should imagine the church as full of colour, with painted statues, walls and ceilings.  This didn’t apply in Cistercian monasteries, as we’ll see later. The church would also be dressed according to the liturgical season.

Painted vault

Painted vault, Romsey Abbey

In Cistercian monasteries the east end of the nave was for the monks and the west end, furthest away from the main altar, was for the lay brothers who did the manual work. The two sections of the church each had their own entrance, altar and furnishings. These churches were plainer than those of other orders. No images were allowed, there were no ornaments and glazed windows were clear. All of this was to ensure that nothing distracted the monks from their worship.

In Cistercian monasteries, the lay brothers were only in the church at the beginning and the end of the day. The lay brothers were divided from the monks by a rood screen when they worshipped.  There was a gap in the screen to allow passage through the length of the nave. The remnants of a Cistercian rood screen are still visible at Roche Abbey.

Screens, Roche Abbey

The rood screen, Roche Abbey

Rood was the old English word for cross. In churches, the rood screen was made of wood or stone and it stood between the choir and the nave. On top of the screen was the cross, usually with a statue of the Virgin on one side and St. John the Evangelist on the other.

This Saxon rood is on the outside of the abbey church at Romsey.

saxon-rood

In many Benedictine and Augustinian monasteries the nave or an aisle was also used by the local lay population as their parish church. The north aisle at Romsey Abbey was used in this way and it saved the church from destruction when the convent was dissolved under Henry VIII. The town paid £100 to be allowed to continue to use it. Where the nave was the parish church, there would be an altar in front of the rood screen, as there was in Cistercian monasteries for the lay brothers.

Sources:
Muchelny Abbey by John Goodall and Francis Kelly
Roche Abbey by Peter Fergusson and Stuart Harrison
Richmond Castle and Easy Abbey by John Goodall
The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
Life in a Monastery by Stephen Hebron

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

19 Comments

Filed under Church, Medieval Life, Medieval Monks, Monastery, The Medieval Church

Anatomy of a Monastery – The Obedientiaries Part Three

rpt

Abbey Church, Rievaulx Abbey

This is the final about the obedientiaries in a monastery. None of my sources gave any clue about who these monks came under, so I’m dealing with them separately. They had such wide responsibilities that it’s probable that they had many monks beneath them.

The precentor was the cantor – the director of music. The “performance” side of the offices was his responsibility. He organised the music, conducted choir practices and rehearsed the readers. It was his responsibility to ensure that the monks could chant and take part in the liturgy correctly. He was also in charge of the scriptorium, where the monks copied and illuminated books, as part of his role was to provide service books for the offices. Another of his tasks was the maintenance of the mortuary roll, which was the list of names of the dead for whose souls the monastery was paid to pray. In addition to this, he had to make sure that the prayers for the dead were said on the correct days. I wish I had known this when I wrote The Heir’s Tale. It would have added some extra colour when Ancelin visits the monks in Winchester. The precentor was often the monastery’s librarian, annalist, archivist and chronicler. His deputy was the sub-cantor or succentor.

The precentor might also be the armarius, who looked after the book cupboard. This was where the books that were lent to the monks were held. The armarius kept track of what had been borrowed and who had borrowed it. When necessary, he purchased new books. He was responsible for what the monks read, both publicly and privately, as well as for what was read aloud during mealtimes. The armarius made sure the books were in good repair and he provided materials and tools (inks,  gold-leaf, parchment and velum) to the scriptorium.

The novice master trained the novices and looked after them during the six or seven years of their novitiate. He was responsible for their material, intellectual and spiritual needs, and made sure that they learned everything they needed to know in order to live and work within the monastery.

The almoner or elemosinarius gave food, clothing, medicine and money to the poor. This obligation on the monastery is one of the reasons why the dissolution of the monasteries in England was such a disaster for the poor. Although everyone who had plenty was supposed to give some of it to support those who had nothing, it was a duty that not everyone took as seriously as the monks. The almoner was also responsible for giving hospitality to poorer pilgrims. Rather bizarrely, he provided walking sticks for monks who needed them and rods for disciplining pupils if there was a school attached to the monastery.

Infirmary, Rievaulx Abbey (3)

Infirmary, Rievaulx Abbey

The infirmarian looked after the sick monks and those who were too old or infirm to carry out their normal duties. He managed the infirmary and the pharmacy. He was not a physician, although some monasteries had one among the monks. Mostly they were brought in from outside when they were needed.

I’m sure there are other roles that will come to light as we make our way through the monastery in the coming weeks.

Sources:
The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
Life in a Monastery by Stephen Hebron
Medieval Monasticism by C.H. Lawrence

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

15 Comments

Filed under Monastery, The Medieval Church

The Anatomy of a Monastery – The Obedientiaries Part Two

Nave, Rievaulx Abbey

Nave, Rievaulx Abbey

We’re continuing this series about monasteries by looking at some of the obedientiaries. Last week we looked at the cellarer’s department. This week we have two more departments.

First, the chamberlain, or camerarius. He was the housekeeper with wide, though fairly mundane, responsibilities. Sometimes the chamberlain and the cellarer were the same person, which would seem to be a sensible arrangement. The chamberlain’s main duty was to make sure that the monks had clothing and that it was clean. This meant that he had to employ laundresses to wash all the linen used in the monastery. One of the things that surprised me as I prepared for this series is just how much contact the monks might have with women. Whether the linen was sent out to the laundresses or they came into the monastery, I haven’t been able to find out. The washing itself was probably done in a nearby river.

Another of the chamberlain’s jobs was making sure that the hay in the monks’ mattresses was replaced frequently. He was also responsible for horses and carts, including those at the granges, which is one of the reasons why it would have made sense for the cellarer and the chamberlain to be the same person, since the cellarer was responsible for the granges. The chamberlain had to make sure that there was always enough fodder for the horses and that the harness was in good order. He was responsible for keeping the monastery’s lamps in good repair and for maintaining a fire in the warming room, where the monks worked on cold days.

I haven’t come across any subordinates that he might have had, but I doubt he stuffed the mattresses himself, nor would he have put the horses’ fodder into the stables.

warming room, Rievaulx Abbey

Warming Room, Rievaulx Abbey

The third senior obedientiary was the sacrist, who did have identifiable staff beneath him. His responsibility was the very heart of the monastery: the abbey church.

The sacrist looked after the fabric of the church, including the altars, vessels and any shrines. His duties included keeping them secure. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, churchmen weren’t above stealing bits of saints’ relics and the odd pilgrim might try to take a bit of a shrine home with them, but there would also be many extremely valuable objects within the church, which would tempt a thief. The plate would often be of silver or gold, as would the ornaments. If the shrine housed a popular saint, it might be covered with gold and jewels. The vestments were often made of expensive fabric and covered in fine embroidery.

The sacrist didn’t just look after valuable objects, he was also responsible for the cleaning of the church and for making sure that everything within it was in good condition. This included the furniture. He also helped design the fittings, windows, altars, decorations and wall paintings if they were being replaced. The wall paintings would have been replaced frequently. In addition to everything else, he looked after the clocks, bells, vestments, plate, reliquaries, lights and vestments. If it was within the church, he had to make sure it worked, was clean and could be used. He kept an inventory of everything, which I think must have been onerous if the abbey church held a popular shrine. Pilgrims tended to leave gifts of large and small value at shrines, so there would have been frequent additions to his lists.  His assistants included the treasurer, the sub-sacrist, the revestiarius and the master of works. He usually slept at the end of the dorter nearest the treasury.

painted-wall

Wall Painting, Romsey Abbey

The sub-sacrist, or matricularius, was the sacrist’s deputy and the monastery’s timekeeper. In addition to being the deputy, he also had some duties of his own. He had to ensure that the monastery’s bells rang at the right time. He ate and slept in the church so that there was always someone there.

The treasurer was responsible for the monastery’s valuables. These included the church plate, vestments, rare books, documents and money.

The revestiarius looked after the vestments and other fabrics used in the church. Different coloured vestments and fabrics were (and still are) used in different liturgical seasons and at certain festivals. He had to make sure that the correct colours were put out.

Next week we’ll wrap up the obedientiaries with some roles that don’t appear to have come under any of the three departments that we’ve looked at so far.

Sources:

The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
Life in a Monastery by Stephen Hebron
Medieval Monasticism by C.H. Lawrence

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

28 Comments

Filed under Medieval Monks, Monastery, The Medieval Church