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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

What was studied ?


Cistercian scholars at Oxford studied for a bachelor’s degree or a doctorate in theology, but their studies were not restricted to theology. The monks received a basic grounding in grammar, rhetoric and logic, which were together referred to as the Trivium (or the primitive scientie). These subjects were also taught within the monastery. A master was brought in the college to give lectures in logic, philosophy and sophistry. There was a dispute in 1531-2 when the lecturer did not appear in person but sent his deputy to deliver these lectures.(36) Courses in theology would have been run by a member of the studium.

Truant monks
In the early sixteenth century, five junior scholars at St Bernard’s were brought before the Vice-Chancellor for bunking off their logic lectures. They were declared excommunicate, but absolved after five days and ordered to attend future lectures. Of these five offenders, two were from Yorkshire – one was a monk of Fountains, another of Furness.

[Stevenson and Salter, The Early History of St John’s College, pp. 32-3.]

Surviving notebooks of Cistercian scholars at Oxford show the wide range of subjects that were of interest to the monks at this time. They include topics that we would not expect Cistercians studied, such as alchemy, palmistry and astronomy. The books were clearly compiled with considerable care and attention to detail. Lecture notes and treatises are neatly copied, letters illuminated and diagrams added; there are also several doodles, and the occasional ‘NB’ or didactic finger, pointing out a particularly significant passage. Two notebooks now preserved in the British Library are a fourteenth-century book owned by ‘Thomas’, probably Thomas Kirkby who later presided as abbot of Rewley (1310-1317), and a fifteenth-century notebook owned by Richard Dove of Buckfast.(37) A third book, a vast encyclopaedia compiled in the mid-fourteenth century by one James, whose surname is unknown, is the Omne Bonum or ‘Opusculum’ [‘little work’]. Whilst it has recently been argued that James was a London cleric, who was not educated in either Oxford or Cambridge, he is traditionally thought to have been a Cistercian scholar, the only known to have completed a work concerned with the sciences and related material.

[Read more and view pages from the notebook of Thomas]

[Read more and view pages from the notebook of Richard Dove]

[Read more and view pages from the Opusculum]

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