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The library at Rievaulx

Plan of Rievaulx abbey showing the location of the library(1/3)

Books that were used in the church, refectory, infirmary and cloister were kept in a cupboard, the armarium, under the auspices of the precentor and succentor. This large, round-headed recess was set against the south transept.

According to Stephen of Sawley’s guide for novices, the more mature novice should ‘indulge in more solid food’ by studying the Old and New Testaments. He was not simply to read these works to acquire knowledge - ‘that is merely curiosity’- but rather, to employ the Scriptures as a mirror, to detect what was corrupt and correct this, and to see what was beautiful. Stephen also urged the novice to memorise what he had learnt.
[Stephen of Sawley, Treatises, ‘A Mirror for Novices’ ch. 15, pp. 106-7.]

Read more about what novices read.

At the start of Lent each monk was given a book for the year which he was to read thoroughly during the daily period allocated to reading, as stipulated in chapter 48 of the Rule of St Benedict. He was not to keep his book overnight but to return it each day to the book cupboard for safekeeping. The monks sat on stone benches in the north walkway of the cloister and read aloud, but quietly. Nobody was to leave the cloister during reading time and the monks were to make sure that their hoods did not cover their faces in case anybody secretly nodded off. The monks spent more time reading in winter and during Lent, when less time was allocated to work; on Sundays they read during the work time as well as the reading period.

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