go to home page go to byland abbey pages go to fountains abbey pages go to kirkstall abbey pages go to rievaulx abbey pages go to roche abbey pages
The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The meals


Earthenware tankard © Abbeyhouse Museum, Kirkstall
<click to enlarge>
Earthenware tankard  © Abbeyhouse Museum Kirkstall

(a) Breakfast (the mixt)
A light breakfast, the mixt, which consisted of a morsel of bread dipped in wine ( 1/4 lb bread and 1/3 hemina of wine), was permitted at first only to younger members of the community, the sick and infirm.(2) It was also given to those whose duty it was to serve in the refectory, to tide them over until dinner since they only ate after the rest of the brethren had dined.(3) Nobody received the mixt during Lent, for at this time the monks observed a more abstemious diet. Whilst breakfast as a meal for all was not introduced until the seventeenth century, during harvest-time, when all the monks laboured in the fields, laws of fasting were suspended and additional drinks were served to sustain the brethren whilst they worked.(4)

(b) Dinner (prandium)
In accordance with the Rule of St Benedict the Cistercians served two cooked vegetable dishes and a generous portion of bread at dinner; fruits in season were served as a third dish. Each monk received a daily portion of ale or wine which was set before him in an earthen pitcher and was to last him for dinner or dinner and supper when both were taken.

(c) Supper (cena)
In summer when the monks dined for a second time they were generally served green vegetables and fruits which they ate with the remainder of their bread from dinner.

Think of how many people worked to prepare you food, and especially how diligently the Lord supplies you with spiritual delights in the way of learned teachers. Think of the countless dangers endured by seamen in order to provide fish to satisfy the wants of your flesh and thank God for each bite.
[Stephen of Sawley, 'Mirror for Novices', ch. 12, ‘Meals’ pp. 103-4, at p. 104)

Whilst the monks often received extra dishes (pittances) on special occasions, at certain times of the year they followed a more restrictive diet. Throughout Advent and Lent the use of animal fat, eggs, milk and milk products was strictly prohibited except on the first Sunday of Lent, the Monday and Thursday before Ash Wednesday, the vigil of Pentecost, the Ember days in September, the vigil of the Assumption of Mary, and the vigils of St John the Baptist, St Peter, St Paul, St Lawrence, the Apostle Matthew, Simon and Jude, All Saints, the Apostle Andrew.(5) On Fridays during Lent the monks fasted on bread and water. From the late twelfth century it was ruled that neither cheese nor eggs should be served to guests during Lent, except on the days when such foods were permitted to the brethren.(6)

<back> <next>