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Byland Abbey: Location

Byland Abbey: History
Later Middle Ages

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The dormitory

When they rest on their beds, each of them lies alone
and girdled, in habit and tunic in winter and summer.

[Walter Daniel, Life of Aelred.] (37)

A cure for insomnia
Look at your coarse woollen blanket and bedcovers and compare your bed to the grave, just as if you were entering it for burial … If you can sleep, all is well; if you cannot, experience has proved that if you say the Athanasian Creed seven times or the Seven Penitential Psalms, you will fall asleep.
[Stephen of Sawley, ch. 20 ‘Meditation when you go to bed’ p. 112]

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 for reasons of modesty and to prevent vice, but also meant that when the bell for night Vigils sounded the monks did not have to waste time dressing and could simply climb out of bed to 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 for their clothing. Bedclothes were to be either black or white and pillows of a moderate size. At first all the monks slept in the dormitory, but the abbot later moved to his own lodgings. The sacrist too may have occupied a separate chamber so that he could rise before the others to sound the bell for Vigils and keep an eye on the goings on in the church. In the fourteenth century, the General Chapter conceded that priors and sub-priors might have greater privacy and construct cells within the dormitory, i.e. rooms furnished with a lock. It is likely that partitions or screens were also added for the other monks at this time, to provide some seclusion and greater comfort.

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