Medieval Monastery

Interesting facts and information about life and the lives of men and women in the
Medieval period of the Middle Ages

Medieval Monastery
The Medieval monastery was established during the Middle Ages. The first type of Medieval monastery adhered to the Benedictine Rule, established by St. Benedict in 529AD. Different orders of monks were also established during the Middle Ages. The major orders  of Medieval monks were the Benedictines, the  Cistercians and the Carthusians. These monastic orders differed mainly in the details of their religious observation and how strictly they applied their rules. In the twelfth century four hundred and eighteen monasteries were founded in England; in the next century, only about a third as many. In the fourteenth, only twenty-three monasteries were founded in England.

Benedictine Monks

The Monastic community
Each monastery endeavoured to form an independent, self-supporting community whose monks had no need of going beyond its limits for anything. In course of time, as a monastery increased in wealth and number of inmates, it might come to form an enormous establishment, covering many acres and presenting within its massive walls the appearance of a fortified town.

Medieval Monastery Hierarchy - Another Feudal Pyramid of Power
The pyramid of power which was prevalent in the Medieval feudalism of the Middle Ages also applied to the monasteries. The Medieval Monastery hierarchy. Men who entered a Medieval monastery could become both wealthy and successful. The abbey, the term used for a monastery, was under the authority of an abbot.  Abbeys often owed some form of feudal obligation to a lord or higher organization. They are normally self-contained. The prior ran the monastery in the absence of the abbot.  Monks could rise to different positions within a monastery, tutors, archivists, cellarers and doctors.  The pyramid of power within the Medieval Church was a follows:

  • The Pope
  • Bishop
  • Arch Bishop
  • Arch Deacon
  • Abbot
  • Prior
  • Dean
  • Monks

Claustral Prior - the abbot's second-in-command, responsible for the internal life of the monastery
Dean - in early monastic use, a monk appointed by the abbot to supervise a group of ten brethren; in general ecclesastical use, the head of a cathedral chapter; also the senior priest and supervisor of a rural deanery.
 

An abbot could be a landless noble, who used the church as a means of social advancement. Many 'second sons' of nobles were destined to life in the church. Other monks could advance in a monastery. there were a range of occupations for monks.

Daily Life of a Monk in the Middle Ages
Medieval Monks

The Medieval Monastery layout and buildings
The principal buildings of a Benedictine monastery of the larger sort were grouped around an inner court, called a cloister. These included a church, a refectory, or dining room, with the kitchen and buttery near it, a dormitory, where the monks slept, and a chapter house, where they transacted business. There was also a library, a school, a hospital, and a guest house for the reception of strangers, besides barns, bakeries, laundries, workshops, and storerooms for provisions. Beyond these buildings lay vegetable gardens, orchards, grain fields, and often a mill, if the monastery was built on a stream. The high wall and ditch, usually surrounding a monastery, shut it off from outsiders and in time of danger protected it against attack.

Buildings and Rooms in a Medieval Monastery
The following rooms would be included in a plan of a Medieval monastery. The descriptions of the rooms are as follows:

  • Cellarium - store-house of a monastery
  • Chapter-house - The chapter house was a room in which monks met daily, to discuss business and to hear a chapter of the monastic rule
  • Cloister - the cloister was a covered walkway in a monastery often situated around an quadrangle A cloister often comprised of a plain wall or colonnade on the outer side and a series of windows on the inner side
  • Dorter - a dorter was a monastic dormitory. Sometimes the monks slept in isolated rooms called cells
  • Frater - a frater was another term for a refectory (dining room)
  • Garderobe - a garderobe was a lavatory in a medieval building
  • Granary - A monastery storehouse for threshed grain
  • Infirmary - the infirmary was the part of a monastery which housed the monks who were too sick or old to take part in the normal monastic life
  • Kitchen - The monastery kitchen where food was prepared and cooked
  • Lavatorium - the lavatorium was a room which contained a trough with running water where monks washed their hands before meals
  • Misericord - a misericord was the part of a monastery where monks were disciplined
  • Night Stair - A staircase used by the monks to enter a church directly from their dormitory in order to attend late night and early morning services
  • Refectory - the refectory was dining hall of a monastery
  • Sacristy - the sacristy was a small building, usually attached to the chancel in which vestments and sacred vessels were kept
  • Scriptorium - the scriptorium was the room in a monastery used by clerics or scribes copying manuscripts
  • Warming-house - the warming house was the only room in a monastery, apart from the infirmary and kitchen, where a fire was allowed. Also called a Calefactory

Medieval Monastery Life
Medieval monastery life
consisted of a regular round of worship, reading, and manual labor. Every day was divided into eight sacred offices, beginning and ending with services in the monastery church. The first service came usually about two o'clock in the morning; the last, just as evening set in, before the  monks retired. In addition to their attendance at church, the monks spent several hours in reading from the Bible, private prayer, and meditation. For most of the day, however, they worked hard with their hands, doing the necessary washing and cooking for the monastery, raising the necessary supplies of vegetables and grain, and performing all the other tasks required to maintain a large establishment like the monastery.

Uses of the Medieval monastery
A Medieval monastery was a farm, an inn, a hospital, a school and a library. The uses of a Medieval monastery included the following:

  • A Medieval monastery received pilgrims and travellers, at a period when western Europe was almost destitute of inns
  • A Medieval monastery performed many works of charity, feeding the hungry, healing the sick who were brought to their doors, and distributing their medicines
  • A Medieval monastery provided education for boys who wished to become priests and those who intended to lead active lives in the world
  • A Medieval monastery copied the manuscripts of classical authors preserving valuable books that would otherwise have been lost
  • A Medieval monastery kept records of the most striking events of their time and acted as chroniclers of the medieval history of the Middle Ages

Mendicant Orders
Members of the mendicant orders ( Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Austins) were called Friars. The Mendicant Orders  were begging orders of friars who depended upon organized begging for their support. Friars were more involved with the outside community as opposed to the Medieval monastery.

Medieval Monastery
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Medieval Monastery

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  • The Medieval Monastery layout and buildings
  • Medieval Monastery Life
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Medieval Monastery

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