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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The refectory (18)


Artist's impression of a lay-brothers' refectory
© Cistercians in Yorkshire
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Artist's impression of a lay brothers  refectory

A bell sounded to call the lay-brothers to the refectory, which was situated in the southern part of the western range, on the ground floor. The tables here were presumably arranged around the sides of the room, similar to the set up in the monks’ refectory. In contrast to the monks’ refectory there was no pulpitum for there was no reading during the lay-brothers’ meals. Nevertheless, they were to observe silence and behave with decorum. The lay-brothers did not originally wear cloaks in the refectory but from the mid-twelfth century these could be worn, if handy. Anyone who arrived after the verse had been said three times was considered late and punished accordingly: he forfeited his allowance of wine or ale and was the last to receive his food. If anyone had disobeyed his master at the workplace his misbehaviour was known to all in the refectory, for he was to sit on the floor with his napkin during mealtimes for three days.

Meals began with prayers which were similar, but shorter, than those said by the monks. The seniormost lay-brother, who presided at dinner, then made the sign of the cross and the lay-brothers sat down in order of seniority, i.e. according to the number of years since they had made their profession. At the end of the meal the senior lay-brother rose to lead the concluding prayers and everyone then proceeded in reverse order to the church for grace - the most junior lay-brothers led the procession, the seniors followed at the end. Once all the brethren had taken their positions in the stalls they recited the Pater Noster in silence, made the sign of the cross and left. The lay-brothers who had served in the refectory and ate after the others had dined said their prayers in the refectory.

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