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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Food and Drink


For food, besides what the Rule specifies about the pound of bread, the measure of drink and the number of cooked dishes, this too is to be observed: the bread should be coarse, that is made with bran. But where there is no wheat rye bran is permitted. Those who are ill will not be bound by this rule. Moreover, for guests for whom it is so ordered, bread of finer quality is served; no less for those who have been bled (they shall have) a pound of white bread – once during each bleeding.

[Capitula XII, in Waddell, Narrative and Legislative Texts, p. 409]

Wine and white bread, honeyed wine and rich foods cater to the body, not the soul. The body,but not the soul is fattened by frying pans.(1)

The Cistercians objected to the laxity and gluttony of other orders and ruled that, in accordance with chapter 61 of the Rule of St Benedict, the monks should eat once a day. In summer, however, a light supper was served to sustain the monks during the longer days and the extra time spent working. As stipulated in chapter 59 of the Rule of St Benedict only two dishes were to be served at meals and meat forbidden to all save the sick. The Cistercians’ diet largely consisted of coarse bread (a finer quality bread was given to the ill, the bloodlet and guests), vegetables, herbs and beans, but on special occasions, such as feast days or anniversaries, they might be served fish, eggs and other delicacies, known as pittances. Treats of this kind might be served once a week or more, although the General Chapter stipulated that pittances should not be served on three consecutive days.

The refectory pulpit at Beaulieu Abbey, which is today used as the parish church
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Pulpit in the refectory at Beaulieu abbey

The monks drank ale or wine, and whilst the amount was restricted additional drinks were served during the long hot summer days, to prevent dehydration. Salt and home-grown spices were used to flavour and season foods; luxury condiments such as pepper and cumin were discouraged.