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Roche Abbey: location

Roche Abbey: history
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Foundation
Consolidation
Rise and Fall
Dissolution
Spoliation

Roche Abbey: buildings
Precinct
Church
Cloister
Sacristy
Library
Chapter House
Parlour
Day Room
Dormitory
Reredorters
Warming House
Refectory
Kitchen
Lay Brothers' Range
Abbots'Lodging
Infirmary
Guesthouse
Gatehouse

Roche Abbey: lands

Roche Abbey: people

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  Plan of Roche abbey showing the dormitory(1/1)

Roche Abbey: the dormitory

Nothing remains of the monks’ dormitory at Roche which extended almost forty metres along the upper level of the southern range. It would have accommodated about sixty monks. A staircase in the southern range of the cloister, next to the warming house, provided access to the dormitory during the day, but when the monks rose during the night to celebrate Vigils in their choir, they used a different staircase that linked their dormitory with the church via a covered passage which ran over the chapter-house. The dormitory would have been lit during the day by a series of windows and also one or two lanterns, which were to burn at all times to prevent misconduct. These lanterns were placed in such a way that they illuminated the monks’ latrine block (the rerdorters), which was situated at the far end of the dormitory.

Artist's impression of a Cistercian dormitory
© Cistercians in Yorkshire
<click to enlarge>
Artist's impression of a Cistercian dormitory

In accordance with chapter 22 of the Rule of St Benedict the monks slept fully clothed ‘as if to prepare for the Lord’. This was in part for reasons of modesty but also meant that when the bell for the night office of Vigils sounded the monks did not have to waste time dressing but could simply climb out of bed and make their way to the choir stalls in the church. The monks lay on mattresses filled with straw, which were arranged around the room; there would have been a closet of sorts in the centre. Bedclothes were to be either black or white and pillows of a moderate size. At first all the monks slept in the dormitory, but later on it was common for Cistercian abbots to have their own lodgings. The sacrist may also have had a private chamber since he had to rise before the others to sound the bell for Vigils, and keep an eye on the goings on in church. In the fourteenth century the General Chapter conceded that priors and sub-priors might construct cells within the dormitory (i.e. rooms furnished with a lock) to give them greater privacy, and it is likely that at this time the other monks had some kind of a partition. Michael Sherbrook’s account of the spoliation of Roche in the sixteenth century mentions that one of the monks tried (in vain) to sell Michael’s uncle the door of his cell for two pennies, which suggests that, at least by this time, the dormitory at Roche was divided into individual cells.

A cautionary tale
A tale recounted in the thirteenth century underlined the importance of sleeping fully clothed. A certain monk who was unable to sleep one night saw, as he was lying awake, the figure of a wondrous lady passing through the dormitory. He watched how the woman walked around the sleeping monks, blessing each in turn except for one, whom she left out, and indeed averted her eyes when she passed by him. The following day the monk reported what he had seen to the unblessed monk, who, rather shamefacedly, admitted that he had lain somewhat carelessly that night. It is not clear whether he had slept without his girdle, sandals or habit
.
[Caesarius of Heisterbach, The Dialogue on Miracles I, bk vii, ch. xiv (p. 471)].

The monks were to observe the strictest silence in the dormitory at all times, and even sign language was forbidden here.

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