Religion in the Middle Ages - monks and nuns

The monasteries

A reconstruction of what the inside of a Cistercian monastery may have looked like
Cistercian monastery of Cleeve Abbey

  • Monks and nuns took vows of poverty (no money), chastity (no sex) and obedience (obeying the Abbot or Abbess).
  • There were many different orders of monks, eg Benedictines, known as 'black monks' and Cistercians, known as 'white monks', named after the colour of the habits they wore. Monks usually live in closed communities.
  • Some orders, such as the Franciscans, have members known as friars who work in the wider community.
  • Monks built huge monasteries, such as Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire.
  • Monasteries had running water and good toilet facilities and were much healthier places than medieval towns and villages.

Places in a monastery

Church: where worship took place at regular times during the day and throughout the week.

Cloister: a covered walkway round a courtyard, where the monks copied books, studied and exercised.

Warming House: where a monk could go to warm his hands.

Chapter House: where the monks met every day to listen to readings from the rule book and Bible.

Lavatory: where the monks washed themselves.

Reredorter: the monastery toilets.

Infirmary: where the monks looked after the old and sick.

Hospital: where the monks looked after travellers and the almoner gave alms to the poor.

Dormitory: where the monks slept.

Refectory: where the monks ate.

Cellarium: where the cellarer looked after the wine and beer.