A Monk’s Life

It’s been a good work year, despite all the global challenges. Great to get the second book The Conversos out and the audio version of The Castilians.

We managed a wee trip to Yorkshire in October and I was in castle heaven. The most dramatic place we visited was Rievaulx Abbe
Rievaulx Abbey High Altar facing Jerusalem
High Altar facing Jerusalem

I was aware that most churches (and certainly in medieval times) were built in the shape of a cross. But didn’t realise that they were also built with the top of the cross facing Jerusalem and the East – how did I not know that!

The detailing, the work of the stone masons, all done to glorify God is stunning and yet the monks lived a simple life.

Rievaulx Abbey detailing
Rievaulx Abbey detailing

The number of monks fell dramatically during the Black Death in the late 1300s. By 1538 King Henry VIII had his beady eye upon the rich pickings to be gleaned from the Catholic Church.

Rievaulx Abbey

Henry sold the land and the buildings but kept the plate, abbey bells and the lead from the roof for himself. It’s remarkable that these building have been without roofs for nearly five hundred years and yet the immense walls are still standing.

Of course I had to investigate the sanitation…

The monks’ latrines, known as the reredorters, were to be found at the top of a three-storey building conveniently connected to their dormitory – but a very long drop if you were stumbling about in the dark at night.

Sanitation at Rievaulx Abbey
The sewer three stories beneath the latrine, which drained into the River Rye

A line of privies were set over the drain and the monks sat on removable wooden seats. The brethren were permitted to use the toilets whenever necessary but must exercise modesty at all times: they had to cover their faces with their hoods, fold their hands in front of them and ensure that their cowls reached the floor.

Before Matins a check was made that no monk was still in bed or had fallen asleep on the privy.

see The Monastic Constitutions of Lanfranc, ed. and tr. D. Knowles, rev. C. N. L. Brooke (Oxford, 2002), pp. 117-119.]

The Seton Chronicles Historical Fiction by V E H Masters

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