Abbey: The A monastic community. Abbeys belonged to particular orders, such as the Cistercians.
Abbot (male): Person in charge of an Abbey.
Abbess (female): Person in charge of an Abbey.
Almery: or Ambry or Aumbry. A box or cupboard for alms, or a cupboard in the chancel for sacred vessels.
Almonry: The office of the Almoner where alms were distributed.
Benedictine: Order of monks founded by St. Benedict. Followed the Benedictine Rule.
Canons: The chapter members. The people running the cathedral.
Chapter: The group of canons, with the Dean, who are the governing body of a cathedral.
Chapter House: The building where the canons and Dean met each day to hear a chapter of St Benedict's Rule read out and to conduct the business of the abbey.
Cistercians: Order of monks, also know as the White Monks.
Cloister: The rectangular covered area around an open space (garth) of a monastery or cathedral surrounded by covered walkways used for study and meditation. A photograph of the cloister at Lincoln Cathedral.
Minster: Large church originally linked to a monastery.
Monastery: A community were monks or nuns worship God.
Monk: A man who has taken vows and joined a religious community.
The most commonly used name used for a religious community is 'abbey', but the terms 'monastery', 'nunnery' and 'convent' can also be applied. They all share the same feature of being communities for men or women who through several vows have devoted their lives to the service of God. A monastery is a religious house where men (monks) live, while a numnery is where women (nuns) live. The head of an abbey was either an abbot (male) or abbess (female).
A Priory was a smaller religious house with a prior (male) or prioress (female) as its head. Priories were usually dependent on an abbey.
Origin of Monasteries
Long before monasteries existed individuals chose a life of solitude where God could be worshipped in a place of quietness far away from a world full of cruelty, anarchy and selfishness. These people were known as hermits and they lived far away from society in caves with no comforts at all.
Destruction and Revival
A series of Viking raids beginning in 802 resulted in the destruction of the monastery at Iona and the murder of many of the people there. The Vikings repeatedly invaded Britain looting the churches and monasteries for their riches and killing the monks. Monastic life in Britain almost completely died out during the period of the Viking raids and it wasn't until the end of the Alfred the Great's reign that things began to improve.
Abbeys and Monasteries were populated by many different religious orders with their own beliefs, rules and restrictions. The medieval period saw the foundation of a wide number of religious orders including the popular Benedictines and Cistercians.
The 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.
A List of abbeys by monastic order and by location.
Dissolution of the Monasteries
In England and Wales at the start of the sixteenth century there could have been up to 800 religious houses, but by 1540 Henry VIII had closed the vast majority and taken the buildings and land into royal ownership. Those abbots who stood up to Henry and refused to had over their abbeys paid with their lives.