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An abbey (from Latin abbatia, derived from Syriac abba, "father"), is a Christian monastery or convent, under the government of an Abbot or an Abbess, who serves as the spiritual father or mother of the community. A nunnery is a convent of nuns.
Some cities were ruled by heads of a certain abbey. For more information, see abbey-principality.
The earliest known Christian monastic communities (see Monasticism) consisted of groups of cells or huts collected about a common centre, which was usually the house of some hermit or anchorite famous for holiness or singular asceticism, but without any attempt at orderly arrangement. Such communities were not an invention of Christianity. The example had been already set in part by the Essenes in Judea.
In the earliest age of Christian monasticism the ascetics were accustomed to live singly, independent of one another, not far from some village church, supporting themselves by the labour of their own hands, and distributing the surplus after the supply of their own scanty wants to the poor. Increasing religious fervour, aided by persecution, drove them farther and farther away from the civilization into mountain solitudes or lonely deserts. The deserts of Egypt swarmed with the "cells" or huts of these anchorites. Anthony the Great, who had retired to the Egyptian Thebaid during the persecution of Maximian, A.D. 312, was the most celebrated among them for his austerities, his sanctity, and his power as an exorcist. His fame collected round him a host of followers imitating his asceticism in an attempt to imitate his sanctity. The deeper he withdrew into the wilderness, the more numerous his disciples became. They refused to be separated from him, and built their cells round that of their spiritual father. Thus arose the first monastic community, consisting of anchorites living each in his own little dwelling, united together under one superior. Anthony, as Johann August Wilhelm Neander remarks, "without any conscious design of his own, had become the founder of a new mode of living in common, Coenobitism." By degrees order was introduced in the groups of huts. They were arranged in lines like the tents in an encampment, or the houses in a street. From this arrangement these lines of single cells came to be known as Laurae, Laurai, "streets" or "lanes."
The real founder of cenobitic (koinos, common, and bios, life) monasteries in the modern sense was Pachomius, an Egyptian of the beginning of the 4th century. The first community established by him was at Tabennae, an island of the Nile in Upper Egypt. Eight others were founded in the region during his lifetime, numbering 3,000 monks. Within fifty years from his death his societies could claim 50,000 members. These coenobia resembled villages, peopled by a hard-working religious community, all of one sex.
The buildings were detached, small and of the humblest character. Each cell or hut, according to Sozomen (H.R. iii. 14), contained three monks. They took their chief meal in a common refectory or dining hall at 3 P.M., up to which hour they usually fasted. They ate in silence, with hoods so drawn over their faces that they could see nothing but what was on the table before them. The monks spent the time not devoted to religious services or study in manual labour.
Palladius, who visited the Egyptian monasteries about the close of the 4th century, found among the 300 members of the coenobium of Panopolis, under the Pachomian rule, 15 tailors, 7 smiths, 4 carpenters, 12 cameldrivers and 15 tanners. Each separate community had its own oeconomus or steward, who was subject to a chief steward stationed at the head establishment. All the produce of the monks' labour was committed to him, and by him shipped to Alexandria. The money raised by the sale was expended in the purchase of stores for the support of the communities, and what was over was devoted to charity. Twice in the year the superiors of the several coenobia met at the chief monastery, under the presidency of an archimandrite ("the chief of the fold," from miandra, a sheepfold), and at the last meeting gave in reports of their administration for the year. The coenobia of Syria belonged to the Pachomian institution. We learn many details concerning those in the vicinity of Antioch from Chrysostom's writings. The monks lived in separate huts, kalbbia, forming a religious hamlet on the mountain side. They were subject to an abbot, and observed a common rule. (They had no refectory, but ate their common meal, of bread and water only, when the day's labour was over, reclining on strewn grass, sometimes out of doors.) Four times in the day they joined in prayers and psalms.
Santa Laura, Mount Athos
The necessity for defence from hostile attacks (for monastic houses tended to accumulate rich gifts), economy of space and convenience of access from one part of the community to another, by degrees dictated a more compact and orderly arrangement of the buildings of a monastic coenobium. Large piles of building were erected, with strong outside walls, capable of resisting the assaults of an enemy, within which all the necessary edifices were ranged round one or more open courts, usually surrounded with cloisters. The usual Eastern arrangement is exemplified in the plan of the convent of the Holy Laura, Mount Athos.
This monastery, like the oriental monasteries generally, is surrounded by a strong and lofty blank stone wall, enclosing an area of between 3 and 4 acres (12,000 and 16,000 m²). The longer side extends to a length of about 500 feet. There is only one main entrance, on the north side (A), defended by three separate iron doors. Near the entrance is a large tower (M), a constant feature in the monasteries of the Levant. There is a small postern gate at L. The enceinte comprises two large open courts, surrounded with buildings connected with cloister galleries of wood or stone. The outer court, which is much the larger, contains the granaries and storehouses (K), and the kitchen (H) and other offices connected with the refectory (G). Immediately adjacent to the gateway is a two-storied guest-house, opening from a cloister (C). The inner court is surrounded by a cloister (EE), from which open the monks' cells (II). In the centre of this court stands the catholicon or conventual church, a square building with an apse of the cruciform domical Byzantine type, approached by a domed narthex. In front of the church stands a marble fountain (F), covered by a dome supported on columns. Opening from the western side of the cloister, but actually standing in the outer court, is the refectory (G), a large cruciform building, about 100 feet (30 m) each way, decorated within with frescoes of saints. At the upper end is a semicircular recess, recalling the triclinium of the Lateran Palace at Rome, in which is placed the seat of the hegumenos or abbot. This apartment is chiefly used as a hall of meeting, the oriental monks usually taking their meals in their separate cells.
The annexed plan of a Coptic monastery, from Lenoir, shows a church of three aisles, with cellular apses, and two ranges of cells on either side of an oblong gallery.
Monasticism in the West owes its extension and development to Benedict of Nursia (born A.D. 480). His rule was diffused with miraculous rapidity from the parent foundation on Monte Cassino through the whole of western Europe, and every country witnessed the erection of monasteries far exceeding anything that had yet been seen in spaciousness and splendour. Few great towns in Italy were without their Benedictine convent, and they quickly rose in all the great centres of population in England, France and Spain. The number of these monasteries founded between A.D. 520 and 700 is amazing. Before the Council of Constance, A.D. 1415, no fewer than 15,070 abbeys had been established of this order alone. The buildings of a Benedictine abbey were uniformly arranged after one plan, modified where necessary (as at Durham and Worcester, where the monasteries stand close to the steep bank of a river) to accommodate the arrangement to local circumstances.
We have no existing examples of the earlier monasteries of the Benedictine order. They have all yielded to the ravages of time and the violence of man. But we have preserved to us an elaborate plan of the great Swiss monastery of St Gall, erected about A.D. 820, which puts us in possession of the whole arrangements of a monastery of the first class towards the early part of the 9th century. This curious and interesting plan has been made the subject of a memoir both by Keller (Zürich, 1844) and by Professor Robert Willis (Arch. Journal, 1848, vol. v. pp. 86-117). To the latter we are indebted for the substance of the following description, as well as for the plan, reduced from his elucidated transcript of the original preserved in the archives of the convent. The general appearance of the convent is that of a town of isolated houses with streets running between them. It is evidently planned in compliance with the Benedictine rule, which enjoined that, if possible, the monastery should contain within itself every necessary of life, as well as the buildings more intimately connected with the religious and social life of its inmates. It should comprise a mill, a bakehouse, stables, and cow-houses, together with accommodation for carrying on all necessary mechanical arts within the walls, so as to obviate the necessity of the monks going outside its limits.
The general distribution of the buildings may be thus described:-The church, with its cloister to the south, occupies the centre of a quadrangular area, about 430 feet square. The buildings, as in all great monasteries, are distributed into groups. The church forms the nucleus, as the centre of the religious life of the community. In closest connection with the church is the group of buildings appropriated to the monastic line and its daily requirements---the refectory for eating, the dormitory for sleeping, the common room for social intercourse, the chapter-house for religious and disciplinary conference. These essential elements of monastic life are ranged about a cloister court, surrounded by a covered arcade, affording communication sheltered from the elements between the various buildings. The infirmary for sick monks, with the physician's house and physic garden, lies to the east. In the same group with the infirmary is the school for the novices. The outer school, with its headmaster's house against the opposite wall of the church, stands outside the convent enclosure, in close proximity to the abbot's house, that he might have a constant eye over them. The buildings devoted to hospitality are divided into three groups,--one for the reception of distinguished guests, another for monks visiting the monastery, a third for poor travellers and pilgrims. The first and third are placed to the right and left of the common entrance of the monastery,---the hospitium for distinguished guests being placed on the north side of the church, not far from the abbot's house; that for the poor on the south side next to the farm buildings. The monks are lodged in a guest-house built against the north wall of the church. The group of buildings connected with the material wants of the establishment is placed to the south and west of the church, and is distinctly separated from the monastic buildings. The kitchen, buttery and offices are reached by a passage from the west end of the refectory, and are connected with the bakehouse and brewhouse, which are placed still farther away. The whole of the southern and western sides is devoted to workshops, stables and farm-buildings. The buildings, with some exceptions, seem to have been of one story only, and all but the church were probably erected of wood. The whole includes thirty-three separate blocks. The church (D) is cruciform, with a nave of nine bays, and a semicircular apse at either extremity. That to the west is surrounded by a semicircular colonnade, leaving an open "paradise" (E) between it and the wall of the church. The whole area is divided by screens into various chapels. The high altar (A) stands immediately to the east of the transept, or ritual choir; the altar of Saint Paul (B) in the eastern, and that of St Peter (C) in the western apse. A cylindrical campanile stands detached from the church on either side of the western apse (FF).
The `cloister court', (G) on the south side of the nave of the
church has on its east side the " pisalis" or " calefactory", (H), the common sitting-room of the brethren, warmed by flues beneath the floor. On this side in later monasteries we invariably find the chapter house, the absence of which in this plan is somewhat surprising. It appears, however, from the inscriptions on the plan itself, that the north walk of the cloisters served for the purposes of a chapter-house, and was fitted up with benches on the long sides. Above the calefactory is the " dormitory" opening into the south transept of the church, to enable the monks to attend the nocturnal services with readiness. A passage at the other end leads to the " necessarium" (I), a portion of the monastic buildings always planned with extreme care. The southern side is occupied by the "refectory" (K), from the west end of which by a vestibule the kitchen (L) is reached. This is separated from the main buildings of the monastery, and is connected by a long passage with a building containing the bake house and brew house (M), and the sleeping-rooms of the servants. The upper story of the refectory is the "vestiarium," where the ordinary clothes of the brethren were kept. On the western side of the cloister is another two story building (N). The cellar is below, and the larder and store-room above. Between this building and the church, opening by one door into the cloisters, and by another to the outer part of the monastery area, is the "parlour" for interviews with visitors from the external world (O). On the eastern side of the north transept is the " scriptorium" or writing-room (P1), with the library above.
To the east of the church stands a group of buildings comprising two miniature conventual establishments, each complete in itself. Each has a covered cloister surrounded by the usual buildings, i.e. refectory, dormitory, etc., and a church or chapel on one side, placed back to back. A detached building belonging to each contains a bath and a kitchen. One of these diminutive convents is appropriated to the " oblati" or novices (Q), the other to the sick monks as an " infirmary" (R).
The "residence of the physicians" (S) stands contiguous to the infirmary, and the physic garden (T) at the north-east corner of the monastery. Besides other rooms, it contains a drug store, and a chamber for those who are dangerously ill. The "house for bloodletting and purging" adjoins it on the west (U).
The "outer school," to the north of the convent area, contains a large schoolroom divided across the middle by a screen or partition, and surrounded by fourteen little rooms, termed the dwellings of the scholars. The head-master's house (W) is opposite, built against the side wall of the church. The two " hospitia" or guest-houses for the entertainment of strangers of different degrees (X1 X2) comprise a large common chamber or refectory in the centre, surrounded by sleeping-apartments. Each is provided with its own brewhouse and bakehouse, and that for travelers of a superior order has a kitchen and storeroom, with bedrooms for their servants and stables for their horses. There is also an "hospitium" for strange monks, abutting on the north wall of the church (Y).
Beyond the cloister, at the extreme verge of the convent area to the south, stands the "factory" (Z), containing workshops for shoemakers, saddlers (or shoemakers, sellarii), cutlers and grinders, trencher-makers, tanners, curriers, fullers, smiths and goldsmiths, with their dwellings in the rear. On this side we also find the farm buildings, the large granary and threshing-floor (a), mills (c), malthouse (d). Facing the west are the stables (e), ox-sheds (f), goatstables (gl, piggeries (h), sheep-folds (i), together with the servants' and labourers' quarters (k). At the south-east corner we find the hen and duck house, and poultry-yard (m), and the dwelling of the keeper (n). Hard by is the kitchen garden (o), the beds bearing the names of the vegetables growing in them, onions, garlic, celery, lettuces, poppy, carrots, cabbages, etc., eighteen in all. In the same way the physic garden presents the names of the medicinal herbs, and the cemetery (p) those of the trees, apple, pear, plum, quince, etc., planted there.
Every large monastery had depending upon it smaller foundations known as cells or priories. Sometimes these foundations were no more than a single building serving as residence and farm offices, while other examples were miniature monasteries for 5 or 10 monks. The outlying farming establishments belonging to the monastic foundations were known as villae or granges. They were usually staffed by lay-brothers, sometimes under the supervision of a single monk.
Westminster Abbey is another example of a great Benedictine abbey, identical in its general arrangements, so far as they can be traced, with those described above. The cloister and monastic buildings lie to the south side of the church. Parallel to the nave, on the south side of the cloister, was the refectory, with its lavatory at the door. On the eastern side we find the remains of the dormitory, raised on a vaulted substructure and communicating with the south transept. The chapter-house opens out of the same alley of the cloister. The small cloister lay to the south-east of the larger cloister, and still farther to the east we have the remains of the infirmary with the table hall, the refectory of those who were able to leave their chambers. The abbot's house formed a small courtyard at the west entrance, close to the inner gateway.
Considerable portions of this remain, including the abbot's parlour, celebrated as "the Jerusalem Chamber," his hall, now used for the Westminster King's Scholars, and the kitchen and butteries beyond.
St Mary's Abbey, York, of which the ground-plan is annexed, exhibits the usual Benedictine arrangements. The precincts are surrounded by a strong fortified wall on three sides, the river Ouse being sufficient protection on the fourth side. The entrance was by a strong gateway to the north. Close to the entrance was a chapel, where is now the church of St Olaf, in which the new-comers paid their devotions immediately on their arrival. Near the gate to the south was the guest-hall or hospitium. The buildings are completely ruined, but enough remains to enable us to identify the grand cruciform church, the cloister-court with the chapterhouse, the refecrefectory, the kitchen-court with its offices and the other principal apartments. The infirmary has perished completely.
The history of monasticism is one of alternate periods of decay and revival. With growth in popular esteem came increase in material wealth, leading to luxury and worldliness. The first religious ardour cooled, the strictness of the rule was relaxed, until by the 10th century the decay of discipline was so complete in France that the monks are said to have been frequently unacquainted with the rule of St Benedict, and even ignorant that they were bound by any rule at all.
The reformation of abuses generally took the form of the establishment of new monastic orders, with new and more stringent rules, requiring a modification of the architectural arrangements. One of the earliest of these reformed orders was the Cluniac. This order took its name from,the little village of Cluny, 12 miles N.W. of Macon, near which, about A.D. 909, a reformed Benedictine abbey was founded by William, duke of Aquitaine and count of Auvergne, under Berno, abbot of Beaume. He was succeeded by Odo, who is often regarded as the founder of the order. The fame of Cluny spread far and wide. Its rigid rule was adopted by a vast number of the old Benedictine abbeys, who placed themselves in affiliation to the mother society, while new foundations sprang up in large numbers, all owing allegiance to the "archabbot," established at Cluny.
By the end of the 12th century the number of monasteries affiliated to Cluny in the various countries of western Europe amounted to 2000. The monastic establishment of Cluny was one of the most extensive and magnificent in France. We may form some idea of its enormous dimensions from the fact recorded, that when, in A.D. 1245, Pope Innocent IV, accompanied by twelve cardinals, a patriarch, three archbishops, the two generals of the Carthusians and Cistercians, the king ( St Louis), and three of his sons, the queen mother, Baldwin, count of Flanders and emperor of Constantinople, the duke of Burgundy, and six lords, visited the abbey, the whole party, with their attendants, were lodged within the monastery without disarranging the monks, 400 in number. Nearly the whole of the abbey buildings, including the magnificent church, were swept away at the close of the 18th century. When the annexed ground-plan was taken, shortly before its destruction, nearly all the monastery, with the exception of the church, had been rebuilt.
The church, the ground-plan of which bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Lincoln Cathedral, was of vast dimensions. It was 656 ft. high. The nave had double vaulted aisles on either side. Like Lincoln, it had an eastern as well as a western transept, each furnished with apsidal chapels to the east. The western transept was 213 ft. long, and the eastern 123 ft. The choir terminated in a semicircular apse, surrounded by five chapels, also semicircular. The western entrance was approached by an ante-church, or narthex, itself an aisled church of no mean dimensions, flanked by two towers, rising from a stately flight of steps bearing a large stone cross. To the south of the church lay the cloister-court, of immense size, placed much farther to the west than is usually the case. On the south side of the cloister stood the refectory, an immense building, 100 ft (30 m) long and 60 ft (18 m) wide, accommodating six longitudinal and three transverse rows of tables. It was adorned with the portraits of the chief benefactors of the abbey, and with Scriptural subjects. The end wall displayed the Last Judgment. We are unable to identify any other of the principal buildings. The abbot's residence, still partly standing, adjoined the entrance-gate. The guest-house was close by. The bakehouse, also remaining, is a detached building of immense size.
English Cluniac houses
The first English house of the Cluniac order was that of Lewes, founded by the earl of Warren, c. A.D. 1077. Of this only a few fragments of the domestic buildings exist. The best preserved Cluniac houses in England are Castle Acre, Norfolk, and Wenlock, Shropshire. Ground-plans of both are given in Britton's Architectural Antiquities. They show several departures from the Benedictine arrangement. In each the prior's house is remarkably perfect. All Cluniac houses in England were French colonies, governed by priors of that nation. They did not secure their independence nor become "abbeys" till the reign of Henry VI. The Cluniac revival, with all its brilliancy, was but short-lived. The celebrity of this, as of other orders, worked its moral ruin. With their growth in wealth and dignity the Cluniac foundations became as worldly in life and as relaxed in discipline as their predecessors, and a fresh reform was needed.
The next great monastic revival, that of the Cistercians, arose in the last years of the 11th century and had a wider diffusion as well as a longer and more honourable existence. Owing its real origin as a distinct foundation of reformed Benedictines to Stephen Harding in the year 1098, it derives its name from Cîteaux (Cistercium), a desolate and almost inaccessible forest solitude on the border between Champagne and Burgundy. The rapid growth and wide celebrity of the order are undoubtedly to be attributed to the enthusiastic piety of St Bernard, abbot of the first of the monastic colonies, subsequently sent forth in such quick succession by the first Cistercian houses, the renowned abbey of Clairvaux (de Clara Valle), A.D. 1116.
The rigid self-abnegation, which was the ruling principle of this reformed congregation of the Benedictine order, extended itself to the churches and other buildings erected by them. The defining architectural characteristic of the Cistercian abbeys was the most extreme simplicity and a studied plainness. Only a single, central tower was permitted, and that was to be very low. Unnecessary pinnacles and turrets were prohibited. The triforium was omitted. The windows were to be plain and undivided, and it was forbidden to decorate them with stained glass. All needless ornament was proscribed. The crosses must be of wood; the candlesticks of iron. The renunciation of the world was to be evidenced in all that met the eye.
The same spirit manifested itself in the choice of the sites of their monasteries. The more dismal, the more savage, the more hopeless a spot appeared, the more did it please their rigid mood. But they came not merely as ascetics, but as improvers. The Cistercian monasteries are, as a rule, found placed in deep, well-watered valleys. They always stand on the border of a stream; often with the buildings extending over it, as at Fountains Abbey. These valleys, now so rich and productive, had a very different appearance when the brethren first chose them as their place of retreat. Wide swamps, deep morasses, tangled thickets, and wild, impassable forests were their prevailing features. The "bright valley," Clara Vallis of St Bernard, was known as the "Valley of Wormwood," infamous as a den of robbers. "It was a savage dreary solitude, so utterly barren that at first Bernard and his companions were reduced to live on beech leaves."-(Milman's Lat. Christ. vol. iii. p. 335.)
- Clairvaux Abbey.
- Cîteaux Abbey.
- Kirkstall Abbey.
- Fountains Abbey.
- Rievaulx Abbey.
The buildings of the Austin canons or Black canons (so called from the colour of their habit) present few distinctive peculiarities. This order had its first seat in England at Colchester, where a house for Austin canons was founded about A.D. 1105, and it very soon spread widely. As an order of regular clergy, holding a middle position between monks and secular canons, almost resembling a community of parish priests living under rule, they adopted naves of great length to accommodate large congregations. The choir is usually long, and is sometimes, as at Llanthony and Christchurch (Twynham), shut off from the aisles, or, as at Bolton, Kirkham, etc., is destitute of aisles altogether. The nave in the northern houses, not unfrequently, had only a north aisle, as at Bolton, Brinkburn and Lanercost. The arrangement of the monastic buildings followed the ordinary type. The prior's lodge was almost invariably attached to the S.W. angle of the nave.
FIG. 11.--St Augustine's Abbey, Bristol (Bristol A. Church. B. Great cloister. C. Little cloister. D. Chapter-house. E. Calefactory. F. Refectory. G. Parlour. H. Kitchen. I. Kitchen court. K. Cellars. L. Abbot's hall. P. Abbot's gateway. R. Infirmary. S. Friars' lodging. T. King's hall. V. Guest-house. W. Abbey gateway. X. Barns, stables, etc Y. Lavatory.
The above plan of the Abbey of St Augustine's at Bristol, now the cathedral church of that city, shows the arrangement of the buildings, which departs very little from the ordinary Benedictine type. The Austin canons' house at Thornton, in Lincolnshire, is remarkable for the size and magnificence of its gate-house, the upper floors of which formed the guest-house of the establishment, and for possessing an octagonal chapter-house of Decorated date.
The Premonstratensian regular canons, or White canons, had as many as 35 houses in England, of which the most perfect remaining are those of Easby, Yorkshire, and Bayham, Kent. The head house of the order in England was Welbeck. This order was a reformed branch of the Augustinian canons, founded, A.D. 1119, by Norbert of Xanten, on the Lower Rhine, c. 1080) at Premontre, a secluded marshy valley in the forest of Coucy in the diocese of Laon. The order spread widely. Even in the founder's lifetime it possessed houses in Syria and Palestine. It long maintained its rigid austerity, until in the course of years wealth impaired its discipline, and its members sank into indolence and luxury. The Premonstratensians were brought to England shortly after A.D. 1140, and were first settled at Newhouse, in Lincolnshire, near the Humber. The ground-plan of Easby Abbey, owing to its situation on the edge of the steeply sloping banks of a river, is singularly irregular. The cloister is duly placed on the south side of the church, and the chief buildings occupy their usual positions round it. But the cloister garth, as at Chichester, is not rectangular, and all the surrounding buildings are thus made to sprawl in a very awkward fashion. The church follows the plan adopted by the Austin canons in their northern abbeys, and has only one aisle to the nave--that to the north; while the choir is long, narrow and aisleless. Each transept has an aisle to the east, forming three chapels.
The church at Bayham was destitute of aisles either to nave or choir. The latter terminated in a three-sided apse. This church is remarkable for its exceeding narrowness in proportion to its length. Extending in longitudinal dimensions 257 ft., it is not more than 25 ft. broad. Stern Premonstratensian canons wanted no congregations, and cared for no possessions; therefore they built their church like a long room.
The Premonstratension order still exists and a small group of these Chanones de Premontre now run the former Benedictine Abbey at Conques in southwest France, which has become well known as a refuge for pilgrims travelling the Way of Saint James, from Le Puy en Velay in Auvergne, to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.