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What was a Monastery?
A monastery was a building, or buildings, where people lived and worshiped, devoting their time and life to God. The people who lived in the monastery were called monks. The monastery was self contained, meaning everything the monks needed was provided by the monastery community. They made their own clothes and grew their own food. They had no need for the outside world. This way they could be somewhat isolated and could focus on God. There were monasteries spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.
Why were they important?
The monks in the monasteries were some of the only people in the Middle Ages who knew how to read and write. They provided education to the rest of the world. The monks also wrote books and recorded events. If it wasn't for these books, we would know very little about what happened during the Middle Ages.
The Monks Helped People
Although the monks were focused on God and the monastery, they still played an important part in the community. Monasteries were a place where travelers could stay during the Middle Ages as there were very few inns during that time. They also helped to feed the poor, take care of the sick, and provided education to boys in the local community.
Daily Life in the Monastery
The majority of the monk's day in the Middle Ages was spent praying, worshiping in church, reading the Bible, and meditating. The rest of the day was spent working hard on chores around the Monastery. The monks would have different jobs depending on their talents and interests. Some worked the land farming food for the other monks to eat. Others washed the clothes, cooked the food, or did repairs around the monastery. Some monks were scribes and would spend their day copying manuscripts and making books.
Jobs at the Monastery
There were some specific jobs that were present in most monasteries in the Middle Ages. Here are some of the main jobs and titles:
The Monks Vows
- Abbot - The Abbot was the head of the monastery or abbey.
- Prior - The monk that was second in charge. Sort of the deputy to the abbot.
- Lector - The monk in charge of reading the lessons in church.
- Cantor - Leader of the monk's choir.
- Sacrist - The monk in charge of the books.
Monks generally took vows when they entered the order. A part of this vow was that they were dedicating their life to the monastery and the order of monks they were entering. They were to give up worldly goods and devote their lives to God and discipline. They also took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Fun Facts about the Middle Age Monastery
- There were different orders of monks. They differed on how strict they were and in some details on their rules. The main orders in Europe during the Middle Ages included the Benedictines, the Carthusians, and the Cistercians.
- Each monastery had a center open area called a cloister.
- Monks and nuns were generally the most educated people during the Middle Ages.
- They spent much of their day in silence.
- Sometimes monasteries owned a lot of land and were very wealthy due to the tithes of the local people.
- A scribe may spend over a year copying a long book like the Bible.
Take a ten question quiz at the Middle Ages Monasteries questions page.
More subjects on the Middle Ages:
Middle Ages for Kids