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Monasteries

A monk is a person who devotes their life to religion. Monasteries (sometimes called abbeys) were places where monks lived. The monk in charge of an abbey was called an abbot.

A lot of Christian monasteries in England were built in isolated places so that the monks in them could live a peaceful and simple life. They were not allowed to marry (celibacy) and they were not allowed to own anything, even their clothes. Famous monasteries include: Tintern Abbey in south Wales and Fountains Abbey and Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire.

Tintern Abbey and Courtyard

Monks had a very strict daily routine in which they had to go to the chapel to worship and pray to God several times each day, as well as do regular Bible readings and meditation. Different orders of monks were established for monks who had different beliefs about these practices with the main ones being: the Benedictines, the Cistercians and the Carthusians.

Tapisserie moines mannequins

Monks also did a lot of work in the community, such as: preaching about Jesus Christ, looking after sick people with herbal medicines in a special part of their monastery called the infirmary and handing out left-over food and a small sum of money known as the dole to poor people. Some monks also became renowned as being major wool-growers.

At the start of the Medieval period, the monks had to copy out all of their documents by hand onto parchments using quill pens. This often took months or even years to complete but they were beautifully illustrated with religious pictures or scenes from everyday life. When William Caxton introduced the printing press to England in 1476 it meant that books like The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer could be copied more quickly and cheaply – people who could read but who had not been able to afford handwritten books could now do so.

Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV at the Almonry, Westminster