Abbey: A monastic community. Abbeys belonged to particular orders, such as the Cistercians.
Abbot: (m.) Person in charge of an Abbey.
Benedictine: Order of monks founded by St. Benedict. Followed the Benedictine Rule.
Cell: A monastic dependency of a religious house.
Daughter House: Foundation of an abbey by monks from another abbey. Initial community consisted of 13 monks, one of which was the group leader.
Monk: A man who has taken vows and joined a religious community.
he building layout of medieval abbeys followed a common plan. An example of the plan is shown below and the text below the plan describes the function of each section. Many Cistercian and Benedictine abbeys were built in this way. Variations to the plan did occur where drainage and conditions of the site forced a change to be made. Abbeys of the Carthusian order were based on a different layout because the monks lived solitary lives in small cells with gardens arranged around a central cloister.
The layout of the cruciform (cross) shaped church is common to the majority of abbeys, cathedrals and churches in the country. Each section of the church has its own name.
Two classes of monk lived in the abbey. The first known as lay monks or lay brothers were the secular members of the abbey and were not bound by the stricter monastic rules of prayer. The lay monks did the day-to-day tasks needed to run the abbey. The other monks were the monastic or choir monks. These monks dedicated their time to prayer and learning. The lay brothers worshiped at the west end of the nave while the monastic monks worshipped at the east end. A screen, known as the pulpitum, separated the choir from the nave.
Click image to explore the abbey
The East Range
The West Range
The South Range
At many locations abbeys consisted of more buildings than shown in the above plan. There was usually a simple hospital (or infirmary) where sick monks or travellers could be tended to. Workshops, bakeries and guest houses could also be found.
A large amount of bread was required to feed not only the monks within the community but also the poor who depended on the charity provided by the Almoner. The bakehouse was located within the outer court of buildings that usually surrounded the abbey or monastery.
The Cellarer was responsible for purchasing the food and other provisions required by the community and the barn was need to store all of this. Barns were normally one of the largest buildings on the estate and built to a very high standard. An example of a large medieval barn can still be seen at Cressing Temple, a site once owned by the Knights Templar.
Every monastery and abbey would have had a garden devoted to the cultivation of herbs. They were important not just for adding as ingredients to food, but also as medicines for healing the sick. The medieval doctors of their day would have understood what properties each herb had and how to apply them. The green area inside the cloisters (the garth) was commonly used for this purpose.