The abbeys and priories
LACK of space prevents us from describing in detail the buildings which comprised the average monastery. After the first hundred years or so the monasteries of all the Orders were built to practically the same plan, except that the Carthusians provided each monk with a small detached house, erected round the cloister square. Professor A. Hamilton Thompson states that a master mason acted as architect of the monastic buildings, the actual building being done by hired labour under the supervision of a monk, although the lay brothers might do the carrying and lay the stones. There was no special monastic style and the monasteries were erected in the style then prevailing.
The church was on the north side of the cloister square and for night services could be entered from the dorter (dormitory) by the night stairs, the dorter being on the east side of the square. In cases where both canons and canonesses used the church the Gilbertines divided it by a wall reaching from the floor nearly to the top of the church, so that both sexes could share a common service without, however, seeing each other, thus discouraging the roving eye and the wandering mind.
The north range of the cloisters was used by the monks for work during the day, as it faced south and was rather warmer than the others. By the early thirteenth century wainscoted cubicles were provided in some monasteries, and glazed windows and reading desks in the carrells used by the monks in the cloisters also became common, as well they might if the monks were to work in these carrells in an English winter. The canopies over the choir stalls were provided to keep off the down-draughts. Briefly, conditions were being adapted to our climate. On the east side of the cloister square, in addition to the dorter, there were the sacristy, chapter house, parlour, and the rere-dorter projected from the dorter. On the west side were the frater (dining hall) for the lay brothers on the ground floor, and over it their dorter. On the south side were the monks' frater, the calefactory or warming house, and to the west of the frater stood the kitchen. The other main buildings comprised an infirmary with its chapel, the Abbot's lodging and his kitchen, and the infirmary for the lay brothers. The administrative and other subsidiary buildings usually included stables, storerooms, a granary, offices of various kinds, a guest house, bath, prison, almonry and a library. The whole of the buildings were usually surrounded by an outer wall or by a wall and stream according to the circumstances, and a gatehouse and porter's lodge gave access to the Drecincts. The ground plan of Roche Abbey (Yorkshire) on the folded insert at the end of the book shows the plan adopted by most of the Orders except the Carthusians whose building plan is explained above.
By the date of the Black Death there is no doubt that the monasteries had become larger, more commodious and better furnished —in other words less cold and severe. No one will cavil at this, as it resulted in their becoming more habitable and more likely to assist those who lived in them to achieve the objects which compelled them to enter the religious orders. It was not these changes which led in many instances to deterioration and eventual decay.
Till the early twelfth century the monks were normally occupied within the monastery compound and to a great extent confined to the cloister and the church. But from 1300 or thereabouts a change set in, and although it was slow in reaching dimensions which could be said to reduce the spirituality of the inmates, it seems clear that the growth in material possessions gradually absorbed so much of the time and thoughts of the inmates that they may be said from that date to have gradually lost much of the early fervour which marked the inception of the monastic movement.
|The Allies attacking Monte Cassino in World War II.|
This priory was founded in 1088 in the village of Blyth on the north-west side of the county, for Benedictine monks, by Roger de Builli, one of William the Conqueror's followers. The Benedictine monk wore an interula (inner shirt), short under-tunic, cowl and boots, and a black cope with black or white facings of skins, but no cape. It was an alien priory and subject to the Abbot of Holy Trinity, Rouen, and the only monastery of this Order in the county. The Benedictine or Black Monks belonged to the Order founded by St. Benedict, the Patriarch of Western Monachism, early in the sixth century, and his monastery at Monte Cassino was venerated by millions of people, and at the time of writing is being rebuilt after almost total destruction in the second world war. England was the first country outside Italy in which St. Benedict's Rule was firmly established. This great Order has always devoted itself to education, letters and learning. St. Benedict's Rule was concerned with the government of a small monastery and he cannot have envisaged the enormous growth of the system in Europe and this country, or he would have legislated along different lines. The Lateran Council of 1215, by ordering general chapters and visitations created a legislative body for the Black Monks hitherto lacking. The Black Monks of the twelfth century were almost exempt from visitation. In the thirteenth century, however, the monasteries were visited by five classes of visitors, i.e., the provincial chapters, the bishops in the case of non-exempt houses, a special visit by the ordinary, the papal legates and the metropolitan. The reports on these visitations contain much interesting and useful information and record many of the shortcomings of the inmates, but are almost entirely silent about the positive side of life in the monastery. This is a great pity. Between 529 and 1872 the Benedictines produced forty Popes, and among its famous members were the Venerable Bede, Matthew Paris, William of Malmesbury, Jocelyn de Brakelonde, and the poet John Lydgate, while they also claim St. Hugh of Lincoln.
The founder and later benefactors endowed Blyth with lands, money and churches. It was staffed at first by monks from the Mother House in France, and in 1286 Thomas Russel had to be returned to Rouen because of his intolerable conduct and also John de Belleville, as the climate did not suit him. There are other records of the unruly conduct of French monks.
The available records about Blyth Priory disclose nothing of great value to us, and the Archbishop's Visitations reveal no more than minor breaches of discipline, disputes about money and similar matters. Early in the fourteenth century Blyth Priory was reduced to the brink of ruin by the cost of a visit of King Edward II and his entourage on their way to Scotland. Ordinations were frequently held at Blyth in the thirteenth century by the archbishops, including that of Richard de Poppleswurth to celebrate in the New Temple, London, for the soul of the late King John, although one would have thought that an ecclesiastic of higher rank was necessary for that rather hopeless job. There were nine corrody-holders in the Priory in 1379 and the cost of maintaining the Prior and his household at that date amounted to £1,375 a year in present day money.
When Legh and Layton visited the priory in 1536 they alleged that five of the monks were guilty of grave offences and took its surrender, so called. George Dalton, the Prior, received a pension of twenty marks, and this seems to have been the only pension awarded. The net annual income at the date of the surrender was £180. The history of the priory and manor from the date of the Dissolution is somewhat confused. The Victoria County History states that " Sir Gervase Clyfton obtained a grant from the Crown of the site of the monastery, together with Blyth rectory, on 10th July 1538." It seems however that the king changed his mind and granted the site and demesnes to Andrewes and Ramsden who were jobbers in the properties of certain of the dissolved monasteries, and that they soon afterwards sold their interest and that several families acquired it in turn in the next few years. The manor however appears to have been detached from the estate at the Dissolution and to have been leased out. The connection of the Clifton family with Blyth began years before the Dissolution.