---> Glossary of Monastic Terms
Monastic Wales.

Glossary of Monastic Terms

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AbbotThe head of the religious community. He presided over the abbey and was in charge of internal and external administration. He stood in place of God within the monastery and was to be obeyed at all times. The head of a priory was a prior.
Act of SupremacyThrough this Act of 1534 Henry VIII (1509-47) declared himself head of the Church in England. Members of religious orders were required to take an oath (the Oath of Supremacy) to acknowledge Henry's status and pledge their allegiance to him; anyone who resisted him was deemed guilty of treason.
AisleThe area on either side of the nave or chancel.
Alien prioryA small religious foundation dependent on a foreign mother house. In Wales the houses were usually dependencies of monasteries in England and France and include Brecon, which was dependent on Battle Abbey, Sussex, and St Clears, which was dependent on St Martin des Champs in Paris.
AmbulatoryA semicircular or polygonal passageway running behind the High Altar; generally an extension of the apse.
ApseArea projecting eastwards from the church; may be rectangular, semicircular or polygonal.
Apsidalsee Apse
ArcadeA series of arches supported on columns; may be closed (blind) or open.
Arcadingsee Arcade
ArchA curved structure across an opening or recess which comprises wedge-shaped elements. These provide support by converting vertical pressure into lateral pressure.
AshlarDressed' stone; large stone blocks with smooth, square edges; irregular blocks are known as 'rubble'.
Augustinian CanonsCanons who observe a regular life but unlike monks are not required to withdraw from the world and engage in pastoral work, after the example of the Apostles. read more
AumbryA small niche or cupboard to store the vessels used in the celebration of Mass.
BardA professional poet engaged by a patron, often an abbot. In the later Middle Ages a number of the Welsh bards resided in Cistercian houses such as Valle Crucis and Strata Florida, where they wrote poetry commemorating the abbots' achievements.
BayA division of space along a wall or roof, such as a section of arcading between two piers.
Benedict of Nursiasee St Benedict
Benedictine Ordersee Benedictines
BenedictinesMonks who follow the Rule of St Benedict, compiled in the sixth century by St Benedict of Nursia for his monks of Monte Cassino. read more
BenefactorA donor who suported the community with financial or other aid.
Black Friarssee Dominicans
BourgFrom the tenth century the bourg became increasingly associated with trade and agriculture with seigneurial and monastic bourgs comprising groupings of tenants but also demarcating areas of intensified trade, commerce and craftmanship. These quarters were often fortified.
ButtressA structure built against another to support or strengthen it.
Calefactory Also known as the warming house. This was one of the few places in the monastery that was heated. The community gathered here to warm themselves, and carried out various tasks such as preparing ink and greasing boots; in some houses the routine bloodletting sessions were carried out here.
Canonical HoursThis comprised the seven daytime Offices of Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline and a night Office of Vigils. These structured the monk's day which began with Lauds at daybreak and ended with Compline at sunset.
Capella ante portasThe chapel by the gate; this was usually beside the main entrance to the precinct and was often used by layfolk and pilgrims.
CapitalThe top of a column, carved or sculpted. A scalloped capital is one decorated with truncated cones which form inverted semicircles, like scallop shells, around the top of the capital; a foliate capital is one decorated with a foliage design.
Carta Caritatissee Charter of Charity
CartularyA manuscript that contained various charters relating to land, rights and legalities.
CîteauxThe mother house of the Cistercian Order, which was situated in Burgundy. It was founded in 1098 by a group of Benedictine monks who left their abbey of Molesme.
CellarerOne of the most important monastic officials he had charge of the monastery's provisions.
ChancelThe area around the High Altar in the east end of the church.
ChantryAn endowment to finance the chanting of masses or prayers for the dead.
ChapterhouseEach day the community assembled in the chapterhouse for a meeting which began with a reading from the Rule of St Benedict. Business and disciplinary matter were then addressed. The chapterhouse was generally on the east claustral range and was often an impressive building, second only to the church.
Charter of CharityThis set out the constitutional framework of the Cistercian Order and defined the familial arrangement of the houses which were subject to an annual visitation from the Father Immediate. Every abbey was to possess a copy of this pioneering work. It was first compiled c. 1114 but was later revised and updated.
ChevetThe eastern part of the church comprising the ambulatory, sanctuary and radiating chapels.
ChevronA zig-zag design.
ChoirThe eastern part of the church occupied by the monks who gathered here to celebrate the Canonical Hours.
Cistercian OrderThe Cistercian Order had its origins in the marshy forests of Cîteaux, south of Dijon, and became one of the most important of the new religious orders to emerge from the eleventh-century reform movement. read more
Clas(au)Ancient mother churches. Just before the Anglo Norman conquest of Wales these were run by hereditary groups of canons known as 'claswyr'. Examples include Bangor and Penmon.
ClerestoryThe upper storey of the church above the roof of the aisles; windowed, to bring in light.
CloisterAn open quadrangle (garth) surrounded by a covered walkway or arcade; connects the domestic offices with the church.
Cluniac OrderA reformed branch of the Benedictine Order which emerged from tenth-century Burgundy and dominated monasticism in the tenth and eleventh centuries. read more
ClunyThe mother house of the Cluniac congregations that was founded in Burgundy in 909 by William of Aquitaine. While Cluny was an abbey all other houses in the order were priories. Cluny was at the forefront of monastic reform in the tenth century but later was criticised for its extravagence and laxity.
CoenobiticThis refers to communal living and describes monks who lived as a community rather than as solitaries.
CollationThe daily reading from John Cassian's Collationes Patrum (Conferences) or from another edificatory work which took place usually in the north claustral walk and before Compline.
Collationssee Collation
ColumnCylindrical, polygonal or square pillar which often supports an arch.
ComplineThe final daytime Hour which was celebrated at sunset and concluded the monk's day. It is named after the Latin 'plenus' meaning complete
ConduitA manmade water supply.
Conversussee Lay brother
CorbelStone projection from a wall, often decorative, which supports another feature such as a beam or an arch.
CorniceMoulded horizontal projection along the top of a column or wall.
Corrodiansee Corrody
CorrodyThe stipend given to an individual by the community either in return for gifts received or as a reward for previous services. This usually comprised food, drink, clothing and perhaps lodging within the precinct, but the terms varied. The recipient was known as a 'corrodian'.
CowlPart of the monastic garb, this was a full cloak with wide sleeves and a hood worn that was worn by the brethren over the tunic in the church, chapterhouse and refectory.
Credence tableA small table or shelf in the sanctuary where the bread, wine and water were placed before the Mass.
CrossingThe central space in the church where the choir, nave and transepts intersect.
CruciformShaped in a cross; the common layout for the church.
CuldeesEremitical communities who occupied isolated sites such as Puffin Island and Bardsey.
CustomaryA directory of customs regulating the daily organisation of the monastery and liturgical practice.
Daughter houseA monastery founded by another was known as its daughter house. Grace Dieu, for example, was a daughter house of Abbey Dore which sent a community of its own monks to colonise the new abbey in 1226.
DaystairsStaircase providing access from the cloister to the monks' dormitory.
Divine Officesee Canonical Hours
DominicansMembers of the Friars Preacher, a Mendicant Order founded by St Dominic (d. 1221) and recognised by the papacy in 1216. They followed the Rule of St Augustine and observed corporate as well as individual poverty. Scholarship was integral to the Dominican way of life and members were given a theological training to equip them to combat heresy. The Dominicans played a leading role in the universities; notable members include Thomas Aquinas.
DormitoryThe room where the brethren slept in common; in the later Middle Ages some dormitories were partitioned into cubicles to provide privacy.
Dortersee Dormitory
EremiticOne who lives as a solitary or a hermit.
Flying buttressA supporting structure which converted the pressure from the vault to the exterior of the building; it either connected two walls of the nave, choir or transept with an open half-arch or a complete arch or joined a wall running across the roof of the aisle to the main buttress.
FransicansMembers of the Friars Minor, a Mendicant Order founded by St Francis of Assisi (d. 1226) in 1209. They exercised corporate as well as individual poverty and lived by begging. They occupied urban environments and preached to the populace.
FriarPopular name for the Mendicant Orders which emerged in the thirteenth century. They were committed to poverty - communal as well as individual - and thus relied on begging for their daily subsistence. In contrast to monks, friars were not bound by vows of stability and moved around the towns, preaching and caring for the sick. The Dominicans (Order of Friars Preacher) played a prominent role in the universities.
Galileesee Narthax
General ChapterAn annual general meeting attended by the heads of houses. The Cistercians were the first to make this an integral part of the Order's administration; it was soon taken on by other orders and in 1215 Innocent III made this mandatory.
GrangeAn agricultural centre from which the community co-ordinated farming and industrial work.
Grey Friarssee Fransicans
GrisailleA greenish-grey medieval glass with geometric design.
GrotesqueCarving or sculpture of a figure, animal or hybrid.
GuestmasterThe monastic official in charge of hospitality; he oversaw the reception and care of guests and the organisation of the hospice / guesthouse.
HabitThe customary monastic garb. This was traditionally black but the Cistercians chose to wear habits of undyed wool and were thus known as the White or Grey Monks.
HagiographyWritings on saints and venerated persons.
HorariumThe daily timetable in the monastery that was structured around the Canonical Hours.
Hostellersee Guestmaster
InfirmarerThe monastic official who took care of the sick and the infirm; he had oversight of the infirmary.
Infirmariansee Infirmarer
InfirmaryThe room or complex where the sick and infirm were cared for. This was set away from the cloister, often to the east, and might comprise a chapel, hall, kitchen and garden.
JambThe side support of an arch, window or doorway.
KitchenerThe monastic official in charge of the kitchen.
Knights HospitallerThe Hospitallers seemingly had their origins in the late eleventh century with the foundation of a pilgrim hospital in Jerusalem, near the Holy Sepulchre. But it was in the twelfth century that the Hospitallers became a Military Order. They lived according to a rule (based on the Rule of St Augustine) and took vows of chastity and obedience. The Hospitallers' main task was the care of pilgrims and Crusaders to the Holy Land, but they also had property and lands in the West such as the preceptory at Slebech (Pembrokeshire).
Knights of St Johnsee Knights Hospitaller
Knights TemplarIn the twelfth century the Knights Templar developed into a Military Order. As fighting monks they served in the Holy Land, guarding the pilgrim routes to Jerusalem and protecting the crusader states. They took vows of chastity and obedience and lived under a rule that was compiled by the Cistercian, St Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153). Whilst the Templars became prosperous through generous benefaction from home and their victories in the East their reputation suffered a blow following the Fall of Acre in 1291 and was undermined further when their practices as international financiers were questioned. Like the Hospitallers, they had properties in the West.
LancetA tall narrow window with a pointed head, often used in Early Gothic architecture.
LaudsThe first Canonical Hour of the day that was celebrated at dawn.
LavaboA water basin or washing place.
Lavatoriumsee Laver
LaverA long trough with running water for washing.
Lay brotherThis initially referred to an adult convert to the religious life but later, with the emergence of the new religious orders, it described a non-monastic member of the community who took vows but was essentially responsible for agricultural and industrial work in the monastery. Nunneries might have lay sisters attached to the house.
LeatAn open watercourse feeding water to a mill.
Lectio DivinaDivine reading. This describes a form of meditative reading through which the monk achieved communion with God.
Marcher lordAnglo-Norman lords entrusted with guarding the border regions (Marches). They included the earls of Pembroke and Gloucester.
Marcher lordshipsee Marcher lord
MatinsThe Canonical Hour celebrated before Prime. This Office is now known as Lauds.
MendicantA reliance on charity or begging for subsistence; generally used for the Mendicant Orders such as the Franciscans and Dominicans.
Military OrdersSee Knights Hospitaller; Knights Templar
MisericordThis literally means 'mercy' and was used to describe the room in the monastery where monks could eat meat since they were forbidden to eat meat in the refectory. This term was also used to describe the small wooden shelf under a monk's seat in the choir which allowed him to sit during long periods of prayer.
Mother houseThe house which founded another was known as its mother house. Thus Strata Florida was the mother house of Llantarnam which it founded in 1179.
MouldingDecorative strip of an arch, window or projection for ornamentation. Mouldings bring light and shade.
NarthaxA small porch at the west end of the church.
NaveThe main body of the church occupying the western part of the building.
NicheRecess in a wall.
NightstairsA staircase that linked the monks' dormitory to their choir in the eastern part of the church; this provided a covered access to the church for the night Office of Vigils.
NocturnsThe Night Office which was traditionally celebrated at midnight, in accordance with Psalm 119: 162 'At midnight I rose to give thanks to Thee'. Nocturns is today known as Matins. In the later Middle Ages Matins and Lauds were collectively referred to as Vigils.
NoneCanonical office celebrated at the ninth hour (mid-afternoon).
Nonessee None
NoviceAnyone who wished to become a monk of the house entered as a novice and during this time was a probationary member of the monastic community, usually for a year. He was guided and instructed by the novicemaster until he made his profession as a monk.
NovicemasterThe monastic official who had charge of the novices and provided them with advice and instruction.
NovitiateThe trial period that every newcomer had to undertake before he was admitted as a full member of the monastic community, during which he received instruction. This traditionally lasted for one year to allow time for the novice to be suitably assessed and to receive adequate training.
ObedientiaryA monastic office-holder who was entrusted with an aspect of the monastery's administration; for example, the cellarer looked after the provisions of the house and the sacrist was in charge of the church and timekeeping.
Opus Deisee Canonical Hours
Order of Clunysee Cluniac Order
Order of Friars Minorsee Fransicans
Order of Friars Preachersee Dominicans
PriorThe head of a priory or the second-in command in an abbey. In a nunnery this position was occupied by the prioress.
SextOffice celebrated at the sixth hour.
St BenedictThe Father of Western monasticism, he compiled a rule for his monks of Monte Cassino c. 480-550, known as the Rule of St Benedict. This became and remains the blueprint for Western monastic practice.
TerceThe third Office.
VespersOffice celebrated at the approach of dusk.
Vigilssee Nocturns
Warming housesee Calefactory

Talley Abbey, remains of the tower