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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Relaxation of the rules


A knife found at Kirkstall Abbey © Abbeyhouse Museum
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In the twelfth century the abstemious ways of the White Monks were noted and commented upon by their contemporaries, and their austere diet deterred some from taking the Cistercian habit. By the end of the twelfth century, however, there were signs of laxity, although those who broke the rules were punished, i.e. the Cistercians’ ideals remained high even if these were not always practiced everywhere. Change was afoot. In the fourteenth century difficulties in obtaining vegetables and obligations to guests were cited as excuses to deviate from the Order’s restrictive diet and papal dispensations were granted to a number of houses. The General Chapter was forced to reconsider its stance and make concessions. Meat-eating, which had been prohibited to all but the sick, was condoned but controlled in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. By the late fifteenth century there was such a diversity of local customs that the General Chapter approached the papacy in 1473 for new regulations to clarify rules of abstinence. Sixtus IV’s bull on 13 December 1475 granted the abbot of Cîteaux and the General Chapter the right to adapt their regulations to accord with the times. By the end of the fifteenth century abstinence was a thing of the past.(12) Indeed, during the abbacy of John Paslew (1507-37), the last abbot of Whalley, Lancashire, there was clearly no shortage of fine foodstuffs; in 1520 the community spent c 2/3 of their annual expenditure on food and drink and feasted on delicacies such as figs, dates, sugar and cakes.