|Monasteries in Medieval
Daily life on a medieval monastery in England and Wales.
Life in a Medieval Monastery
Click here to open a new browser window with a map of a medieval monastery
Early monasteries originated in Egypt as places where wandering hermits gathered. These early "monks" lived alone, but met in a common chapel. By the fifth century the monastic movement had spread to Ireland, where St. Patrick, the son of a Roman official, set out to convert the Irish to Christianity.
The Irish monks spread Christianity into Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland. St. Ninian established a monastery at Whithorn in Scotland about 400 AD, and he was followed by St. Columba (Iona), and St. Aidan, who founded a monastery at Lindisfarne in Northumbria.
The Benedictine Rule
The Different Orders
These orders differed mainly in the details of their religious observation and how strictly they applied those rules. The major orders that established monastic settlements in Britain were the Benedictines, Cistercians, Cluniacs, Augustinians, Premonstratians, and the Carthusians.
The first buildings of a monastic settlement were built of wood, then gradually rebuilt in stone. The first priority for rebuilding in stone was the chancel of the church. This way of proceeding meant that the rest of the monastery was at risk of fire, which accounts for the fact that many of the monastic remains you can visit today are in the later Gothic style of architecture.
The Daily Grind
Abbeys grew their own food, did all their own building, and in some cases, grew quite prosperous doing so. Fountains Abbey and Rievaulx, both in Yorkshire, grew to be enormously wealthy, largely on the basais of raising sheep and selling the wool.
These illuminated manuscripts, such as the Lindisfarne Gospel (now in the British Museum), are among the most precious remnants of early Christian Britain.
The Abbey hierarchy
Pilgrims could generally be induced to buy an isignia which proved they had visited a particular shrine. Some popular pilgrimage centres built hotels to lodge pilgrims. The George Inn in Glastonbury is one such hotel, built to take the large number of pilgrims flocking to Glastonbury Abbey.
Decline of the monasteries
When Henry VIII engineered his break with Rome in the 1530's, the rich monastic houses were one of his first targets. A few of the abbey churches near large centres of population survived as cathedrals or parish churches (for example Canterbury Cathedral, Durham Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey), but those that were isolated, including almost all the Cistercian monasteries, were demolished. Throughout the Tudor and later periods these shells of buildings were used by local people as a source of building material.
Contents © David Ross and Britain Express
Name the Historic attraction
British Heritage Awards
Celebrate the best of British Heritage in our annual
British History Quiz
This prolonged conflict between England and France began in 1337
The French gradually pushed England out of their territory, leaving only a small English enclave at Calais
Major English victories included the Battles of Crecy and Agincourt
This Day in British History
02 September, 1666
Great Fire of London begins
The fire breaks out in Pudding Lane, burns for 4 days, and results in over 13,300 buildings destroyed.