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Regular Canons Heale, Martin. Mitres and arms: Aspects of the self-representation of the monastic superior in late medieval England Heale, Martin. Training in Superstition? Monastic-parochial churches in late medieval England Heale, Martin. Books and learning in the dependent priories of the monasteries of medieval England Heale, Martin. The monastic superior and his role in late medieval England Heale, Martin. The choir was ordinarily entered, in the normally planned English monasteries, by a door at the junction of the northern and eastern cloisters , another door at the western end of the north cloister being reserved for the more solemn processions.

Although in the course of time there came into existence private rooms chequer or saccarium wherein the officials transacted their business, and later still private cells are to be met with, the cloisters were, in the main, the dwelling-place of the entire community, and here the common life was lived. The northern cloister , looking south, was the warmest of the four divisions.

1536: Dissolution

Here was the prior's seat, next to the door of the church; then those of the rest, more or less in order. The abbot's place was at the northeastern corner. The novice-master with his novices occupied the southern portion of the eastern cloister , while the junior monks were opposite in the western limb. The cold, sunless, southern walk was not used; but out of it opened the refectory, with the lavatory close at hand.

In Cistercian houses it stood at right angles to the cloister. Near the refectory was the conventual kitchen with its various offices. The chapter-house opened out of the eastern cloister , as near the church as possible. The position of the dormitory was not so fixed. Normally, it communicated with the southern transept , hence it was over the eastern cloister ; occasionally it stood at right angles to it, as at Winchester , or on the western side, as at Worcester. The infirmary usually appears to have been to the east of the dormitory, but no fixed position was assigned to it.

The guest-house was situated where it would be least likely to interfere the privacy of the monastery. In later days, when books had multiplied, a special building for the library was added, at right angles to one of the walks of the cloister. To these may be added the calefactory, the parlour, or locutorium, the almonry, and the offices of the obedientiaries ; but these additional buildings fitted into the general plan where they best might, and their disposition differed somewhat in the various monasteries.

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The Carthusian monastery differed considerably in its arrangements from those of other orders. The monks were practically hermits , and each occupied a small detached cottage, containing three rooms, which they left only to attend the services of the church and on certain days when the community met together in the refectory.

These cottages opened out of three sides of a quadrangular cloister , and on the fourth side were the church, refectory, chapter-house , and other public offices. Both laurae and caenobium were surrounded by walls which protected the inmates either from the intrusion of seculars or from the violence of marauders. No monk might go beyond this enclosure without permission. The monks of the earlier period considered this separation from the outer world as a matter of prime importance.

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Women were never permitted to enter the precincts of monasteries for men; even access to the church was oftentimes denied them, or, if accorded admission, as at Durham , they were relegated to a strictly limited space, farthest removed from the monks' choir. Even greater strictness was observed in safe-guarding the enclosure of nuns.

The danger of attack from Saracen hordes necessitated, in the case of Eastern monasteries, the erection of lofty walls, with only one entrance place many feet above the ground, reached by a stairway or drawbridge that could be raised for defense. The monks of the West , not standing in fear of such incursions, did not need such elaborate safeguards, and therefore contented themselves with ordinary enclosure walls. A religious of mature age and character was selected for the responsible office of porter , and to act as the channel of communication between the inmates and the outside world.

His chamber was always close by, so that he might be at hand to fulfill his duties of receiving the poor and of announcing the arrival of guests. In the Egyptian monasteries the guest-house, situated near the entrance gateway, was place under the charge of the porter, who was assisted by the novices. Benedict so arranged that it should be a building distinct from the monastery itself, although within the enclosure. It had its own kitchen, served by two of the brethren appointed for that purpose annually; a refectory where the abbot took his meals with distinguished guests, and, when he thought fit, invited some of the seniors to join him there; an apartment for the solemn reception of guests, in which the ceremony of washing their feet, as prescribed by the Rule, was performed by the abbot and his community; and a dormitory suitably furnished.

Thus the guests received every attention due to them by the laws of charity and hospitality, and the community, while gaining the merit of dispensing them in a large-hearted way, through the appointed officials, suffered no disturbance of their own peace and quiet. It was usual for the buildings dedicated for hospitality to be divided into four: one for the reception of guests of distinction, another for poor travelers and pilgrims, a third for merchants arriving on business with the cellarer, and the last for monk-visitors.

Formerly, as now, monastic communities always and everywhere extended a generous hospitality to all comers as an important way of fulfilling their social duties ; hence monasteries lying on or near the main highways enjoyed particular consideration and esteem. Where guests were frequent and numerous, the accommodation provided for them was on a commensurate scale. And as it was necessary for great personages to travel accompanied by a crowd of retainers, vast stables and other outhouses were added to these monastic hostels. Later xenodochia, or infirmaries, were attached to these guest-houses, where sick travelers could receive medical treatment.

Benedict ordained that the monastic oratory should be what its name implied, a place exclusively reserved for public and private prayer. In the beginning it was a mere chapel , only large enough to hold the religious, since externs were not admitted. The size of these oratories were gradually enlarged to meet the requirements of the liturgy. There was also usually an oratory, outside the monastic enclosure , to which women were admitted. The refectory was the common hall where the monks assembled for their meals.

Strict silence was observed there, but during the meals one of the brethren read aloud to the community. The refectory was originally built on the plan of the ancient Roman triclinium , terminating in an apse. The tables were ranged along three sides of the room near the walls, leaving the interior space for the movements of the servers. Near the door of the refectory was invariably to be found the lavatory, where the monks washed their hands before and after meals.

The kitchen, was, for convenience, always situated near the refectory. In the larger monasteries separate kitchens were provided for the community where the brethren performed the duties in weekly turns , the abbot , the sick, and the guests. The dormitory was the community bed-chamber. A lamp burned in it throughout the night.


The monks slept clothed, so as to be ready, as St. Benedict says, to rise without delay for the night Office. The normal arrangement, where the numbers permitted it, was for all to sleep in one dormitory, hence there were often very large; sometimes more than one was required. The practice, however, gradually came in of dividing the large dormitory into numerous small cubicles, one being allotted to each monk. The latrines were separated from the main buildings by a passage, and were always planned with the greatest regard to health and cleanliness, a copious supply of running water being used wherever possible.

Although St. Benedict makes no specific mention of a chapter-house , nevertheless he does order monks to "come together presently after supper to read the 'Collations. Gall , dating back to the ninth century; in the early days, therefore, the cloisters must have served for the meetings of the community, either for instruction or to discuss the affairs of the monastery.

But convenience soon suggested a special place for these purposes, and there is mention of chapter-rooms in the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle The chapter-room was always on the cloister level, on to which it opened. The cloisters , though covered, were generally open to the weather, and were an adaptation of the old Roman atrium.

Besides providing a means of communication between the various parts of the monastery , they were both the dwelling-place and the workshop of the monks , and thus the word cloister became a synonym for the monastic life. How the monks managed to live in these open galleries during the winter months, in cold climates, is a mystery; a room, called a "calefactory," heated by flues, or in which a fire was kept up, where the monks might retire occasionally to warm themselves, was provided in English monasteries.

On the Continent the practice in regard to the novices differed somewhat from that prevailing in England.

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Not being as yet incorporated into the community, they were not permitted to dwell in the interior of the monastery. They had their places in choir during the Divine Office , but they spent the rest of their time in the novitiate. A senior monk , called the novice-master, instructed them in the principles of the religious life , and "tried their spirits if they be of God ," as St. Benedict's Rule prescribed. This period of probation lasted a whole year.

Abroad, the building set apart for the novices was provided with its own dormitory, kitchen, refectory, workroom, and occasionally even its own cloisters ; it was, in fact, a miniature monastery within a larger one. The infirmary was a special building set apart for the accommodation of the sick and infirm brethren, who there received the particular care and attention they needed, at the hands of those appointed to the duty.

A herbal garden provided many of the remedies. When death had brought its reward, the monks were laid to rest in a cemetery within the monastic precincts. The honour of burial amongst the religious, a privilege highly esteemed, was also sometimes accorded bishops , royal personages, and distinguished benefactors. No monastery was complete without its cellars for the storing of provisions. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy page. Search: Search. Advanced Search. July 2 line illustrations pages Add to Basket. Add to Wishlist. A history of the or so daughter houses of English monasteries, considering the reasons for their foundation and their everyday life.

Reviews Also by Author Also in Series Reviews A major contribution to this important and neglected segment of historiography. Maps, an impressive bibliography and an index give additional value to this significant volume. Coulstock Boydell Press.