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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The abbot as host


Lead plate from Fountains
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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Lead plate from Fountains

In accordance with the Rule of St Benedict, early Cistercian legislation stipulated that the abbot should dine with visitors in the guesthouse.(7) He was thus to withdraw from the community to preside as host. Certain concessions were granted to the abbot, to enable him to fulfil this duty. For example, he might break his fast to dine with visitors, but should he do so, was not to eat again with the monks.(8) He might also enjoy finer food than the rest of the community, although he was not to indulge in gluttony or partake in revelry. Inevitably, the ideal was not always the reality. Abbot Gervase of Louth Park confessed that he had dined sumptuously in the guesthouse while his monks had famished in the refectory, and the abbot of Beaulieu was reprimanded by the General Chapter in 1215 for his disorderly behaviour at table.(9) The abbot of Beaulieu had reportedly drunk ‘wassail’ in the presence of three earls and forty knights, and to make matters worse, he had a dog with a silver chain to guard his couch, he ate his food from a silver plate, and ‘received the ministrations of obsequious secular attendants.’ (10)

Read more about drunken revelry in Wales

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