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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The incorporation of the lay-brothers and their place in the Order


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

The lay-brothers who lived and worked at the abbey had their own separate quarters in the western range. Here they were removed from the monks in the cloister and also convenient to the court, where they spent much of their day working. Their refectory was situated on the ground-floor of the southern part of the range and their dormitory was located on the upper level. While the monks’ cloister was nestled within the precinct, cocooned from the hustle and bustle of daily life, the lay-brothers’ quarters faced out towards the guesthouse, gatehouse and courts. Whenever the lay-brothers celebrated the Offices in the church they occupied inward facing stalls in the western part of the church, where they had their own choir. This was separated from the monks’ choir in the east by a dividing screen, a further reflection of the distinction between these two communities. The lay-brothers’ Offices were simpler and shorter than the monks’ and to avoid any discordance, all Offices that the lay-brothers celebrated in church were recited in silence, although those chanted at work were said aloud. Whereas the lay-brothers would have heard but not seen the monks, they themselves were neither seen nor heard.

A number of the lay-brothers lived on granges. These were farm complexes established for the direct exploitation of the land and some provided hospitality to passers-by. In theory, each grange was to be within a day’s walk from the abbey so that the lay-brothers there could return to the abbey on Sundays and feast days when they did not work, to follow the full liturgical day in the church.

[read more about Cistercian agriculture at Rievaulx]

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