Anatomy of a Monastery – The Warming Room

warming room, Rievaulx Abbey

Warming Room, Rievaulx Abbey

Last week I wrote about the cloister, which was the place where the monks spent most of their time when they weren’t in church. The cloister was, at least in the early Middle Ages, mostly unheated and the light on wet or snowy winter days would have been too poor for reading or copying books, which is what the monks were doing there. There would also be days when it was simply too cold to sit in the cloister, even if there were braziers at strategic points.

On those days the monks could sit in the calefactorium (warming house or warming room). In most monasteries it was just a large room, but in Cistercian monasteries it was a separate building.

It was called a warming room because it had a fireplace, sometimes two. It was one of only three rooms in a monastery that had a fire, the other two being the kitchen and the infirmary.

The fire was lit on All Saints Day (1st November) and was allowed to burn until Good Friday (anywhere between 20th March and 23rd April).

One of my sources suggests that clothes were dried in the warming room in winter, which would explain the two fireplaces. I think the size of the room and the number of monks it might have to accommodate explain them fairly adequately.

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.

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

22 responses to “Anatomy of a Monastery – The Warming Room

  1. Losing the Plot

    That’s a new one on me; calefactorium never heard of that before.

    From Italian, or Latin I suppose, calde – hot. I’m more familiar with calderas and cauldrons, but I’m pleased to learn something new 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  2. It must’ve been a luxury to go in the few rooms that had fireplaces!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Hadn’t heard of that before, nice info April.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Calefactorium…..what a great name. These days we would shorten it to cal or cally, I wonder if this would have been acceptable, or if they always used the proper name? As always, interesting post.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks, Portia. I suspect that what people called things depended on who they were with. I don’t know why, but “I’m off to the cally” sounds slightly louche.

      I can hear you laughing 🙂

      Liked by 5 people

      • ..and you are absolutely right!😄

        Liked by 3 people

        • Here’s a random observation on the habit of word-shortening. Many years ago I was attending Spanish language classes, given by an Italian tutor. He remarked that English was a difficult language because it had “at least two words for almost everything”. We suggested that was probably because a lot of words have come from Old English while others, often with posher connotations, come from Latin via the Norman-French of the post-1066 colonisers.
          He added darkly that native speakers of English still prefer the shorter “English” words, and will shorten the others wherever they can. He then gave us as an example: “The prof is in the lab, wearing his lab-coat.” I can see how cryptic that might sound to a native speaker of Italian or Spanish. Not to mention the potential confusion between “lab” and “lav”.

          Liked by 3 people

          • I can imagine that an Italian would have little patience with our tendency to shorten words. They seem to be second only to the Gremans for their love of words as long as they can make them.

            Liked by 2 people

          • What annoys me about my fellow Americans is our refusal to apply such useful words as “posh” and “smart” in the sense of style, still adhering to antiques as “fancy” and “elite”.

            Perhaps our youth will expand our vocabulary. The Atlantic narrows (metaphorically) daily.

            Liked by 2 people

            • ‘Posh’ isn’t a word I use much, not in a positive sense, anyway.

              Liked by 2 people

              • It’s certainly an ambivalent word, and I suspect its use is slightly different in New Zealand from what it is in England. I and my contemporaries use it quite a bit in a jokey sense. So, for example, if a friend showed me their new kitchen, car, coat, or whatever I might say, “Ooh, very posh,” and the friend would take it as a compliment. Women sometimes refer to themselves as “getting poshied up” (i.e. dressed up) for an important meeting or job interview.
                On the other hand, I wouldn’t use “posh” to describe the belongings of people I didn’t know well in case I offended them!

                Liked by 2 people

                • It’s pretty similar here, except we say ‘poshed up’.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • This is a wonderful forum for saving people like me from attempting to cram both feet (and some poor soul’s standing too near) in the mouth! Here I imagined posh to be trendy and quite complimentary. Did not realize it could carry traces of snark if used in incorrect settings.

                    Perhaps that is why my compatriots prefer avoiding whoopsies. Ah, the perils of living in the Hoosier hinterland!

                    Liked by 1 person

  5. Calorie, calcar, caldera, cauldron. Calefactorium! It’s all coming together! Anyone with access to the OED? What else is out there?

    I also love looking at assembly instructions that come with furniture. Nearly all European languages take more space than English. Let’s hear it for shortcut words!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. “Calefactorium” does sound a bit intimidating, I’ll admit. Reading the other comments made me laugh out loud! I hadn’t thought about it before, but the word-shortening trait of English speakers is so accurate!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. ‘Calefactorium’, like many of the people commenting here, I’ve never heard of that work before. I love love learning something new!

    Liked by 1 person

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