Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Basic Layout Cistercian Monastery

In reaction to the development of non-basic elements in Cluniac Benedictine monasteries, the Cistercians originally adopted a very simple and strick lay-out for their monasteries. No unnecessary elements were allowed. Special attention was given to allowing the basic Benedictine combination in every day life of prayer and working (Ora at labora). At the same time much more attention than normal in those days was paid to personal hygiene, with daily washing of  hands and head and weekly washing of the feet and ample supply of fresh streaming water. For the latter convenience regulation of a local stream, prior to and during building of the monastery was standard procedure, allowing the water to flow under the building through arched basements. Below the standard lay-out of a Cistercian convent is illustrated.

Not shown here is the orientation of the whole with the north to the left. Also is missing the artificial branch of the brook at the tophand, upstream corner, which led the flowing water under the brother's wing (22) to a well in the cloister (13) and the kitchen area (27, 28), to join the brook again in the southwestern corner of the terrain, in the bottom right corner of the plan. Note that the toilets of the brothers (19) next to their first floor dormitory (18) and a similar convenience for the lay brothers in their wing (36) is aptly situated right over the main stream of the brook.

source www.paradoxplace.com
The source site also describes the plan as follows (quote) 
This template shows the standard layout of Cistercian Abbeys - the green/blue areas are those reserved for the lay brothers, who were not allowed to mix with the choir monks, even to the extent of having a solid screen (=wall) separating the nave of the abbey from the choir (a feature removed in later more egalitarian  restorations, but still evident in the screens which divide the choir and apse areas (hence "choir monks") from pollutants from the outside world in monastic English cathedrals). 

The numbers include the night stairs (4) to the church transept from the monk's dormitory (18).  When establishing new monasteries priority was given to building the transept / chapter house / dormitory structures first so the monks had a place to worship and a roof over their heads plus washing and toilet stuff (19 and 36, hanging out over the river if possible).  Then there are the Chapter House (16 - often intact in Cistercian ruins), the Cloisters (15), day stairs (17), scriptorium (22), novices day room (23), kitchen (28), lay brothers' cloister, refectory (31), store room (33) and lay brothers' dormitory (35).  There would also have been a hand washing lavatorium on the way to the refectory, and a warming room where monks were allowed to warm up in cold winters (24).  Sometimes the monastery buildings were on the north side of the abbey if the drainage / river situation dictated it, and at Rievaulx the abbey faces south (called ecclesiastical east!) with the monastery buildings on the west side to accommodate the sloping hill site.

For a virtual visit of a classic Cistercian monastery go here.

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