A probationary member of the monastic community
who was taught and supervised by the novice-master.
wished to become a Cistercian monk had to undergo a trial period.
In the first instance, he was admitted to the guesthouse
as a postulant where, in accordance with the Rule
of St Benedict,
he remained for four days. He was then received within the monastery
to begin a one-year testing period known as the novitiate. He was
known as a novice. Most houses would have had separate quarters
for the novices, where they ate, slept and were instructed in Cistercian
ways by the novice-master, to make then ‘worthy vessels of
God and acceptable to the Order’ [Walter
this time the novice wore a mantle and stole; he did not wear the
monastic cowl but a sleeveless hooded mantle. Novices generally
enjoyed a more relaxed diet than the other monks.
At the end of
this trial period, the novice was formally received in the chapter-house
as a full member of the monastic community.
There, he made his will and received the tonsure from the sacrist,
who burnt his hair in a special piscina; he then proceeded to
the church for Mass and took vows of obedience, stability and chastity.
Whenever a novice entered a community it was expected that either
he or his family would make gifts to the abbey. Communities that
were burdened with debts might be prohibited from receiving novices.
satirical verse, Mirror for Fools, by Nigel Wireker, a monk
from the Benedictine community at Christ Church, Canterbury, suggests
that Cistercian novices were served more substantial meals than
They’ll feed me well while I’m a novice yet,
but keep me busy, for to all are set their special tasks, lest
seem to be slothful, or lacking share in industry. A Sabbath-rest
is rare, for with less work there’s less to eat is good reason
not to shirk. The rod’s in frequent use, the diet’s rough; unappetising
fare’s though good enough.
[Nigel Wireker, Mirror for Fools,