Monasteries

In between prayers, monks were assigned tasks based on their abilities. This might involve work on teaching, writing, copying, or decorating books.



Small illustration scanned from the book Rodwell, G. F.: South by East: Notes of Travel in Southern Europe (1877). A bearded man sits writing at a medival writing desk; there are scrolls in the foreground, and a gargoyled trifoliate carving on his bench along with a small statue in the background indicate a monastic or other religious setting.
 

Museum of Bayeux, monks
Personal Picture taken by user Urban.

When Christians wanted to live a live completely devoted to their religious beliefs they could either live as a hermit or gather together in a monastery. Life in a monastery revolved around "the Office" and daily Mass. The Office is a set of prayers that are recited during the day from the very early morning till bedtime. An outline for a day might be:
 
  • 2.00 am Matins (Each part of the Office was given a name eg Matins, Lauds, Vesper)
  • 3.00 am Lauds
  • 6.00 am Prime
  • 8.00 am Terce
  • 8.30 am Morning Mass
  • 9.00 am Chapter
  • 10.00 am High Mass- Sext
  • 11.00 am Dinner
  • 12.30 pm Nones Work
  • 6.00 pm Vespers Supper
  • 7.00 pm Compline -Retirement for the nigh

This timetable would change from Summer to Winter. The day being much longer in Summer.

 

The life of prayer and communal living was one of rigorous schedules and self sacrifice. Prayer was their work, and the Office prayers took up much of a monk's waking hours - Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, daily Mass, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline. In between prayers, monks were allowed to sit in the cloister and work on their projects of writing, copying, or decorating books. These would have been assigned based on a monk's abilities and interests. The non-scholastic types were assigned to physical labor of varying degrees.

The main meal of the day took place around noon, often taken at a refectory table, and consisted of the most simple and bland foods i.e. poached fish, boiled oats. Anything tastier, which appeared on occasion, was criticised. While they ate, scripture would be read from a pulpit above them. Since no other words were allowed to be spoken, monks developed communicative gestures. Abbotts and notable guests were honored with a seat at the high table, while everyone else sat perpendicular to that in the order of seniority. This practice remained when monasteries became universities after the first millennium, and can still be seen at Oxford and Cambridge.

Monasteries were important contributors to the surrounding community. They were centres of intellectual progression and education. They welcomed aspiring priests to come study and learn, allowing them even to challenge doctrine in dialogue with superiors. The earliest forms of musical notation are attributed to a monk named Notker of St Gall, and was spread to musicians throughout Europe by way of the interconnected monasteries. Since monasteries offered respite for weary pilgrim travelers, monks were obligated also to care for their injuries or emotional needs. Over time, lay people started to make pilgrimages to monasteries instead of just using them as a stop over. By this time, they had sizable libraries which were sort of a tourist attraction. Families would also donate a son in return for blessings. During the plagues, monks helped to till the fields and provide food for the sick.

A Warming House is a common part of a medieval monastery, where monks went to warm themselves. It was often the only room in the monastery where a fire was lit.