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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The process


The body of an adult male contains approximately 9 1/2 pints of blood. During a modern blood donation session about 3/4 pint (450ml) is removed.

The bloodletting took place in the warming-house, usually in the late morning or early afternoon. A fire was lit in preparation and the monk could have a bite to eat in the refectory before undergoing the procedure. He would certainly need this extra sustenance for the monk was drained to the point of unconsciousness and might lose up to four pints of blood. This weakened him considerably and he required time to recuperate. In the twelfth century, he recovered in the dormitory, cloister and chapter-house, but from the early thirteenth century the monk rested in the infirmary where he enjoyed a more relaxed diet and relief from the daily round of work and liturgical offices.

Treatise on the bloodletting process
© British Library
<click to enlarge>
Treatise on the bloodletting process

During this period of recovery, the monk did not participate in the chants; nor did he read. Most monks who held an office (obedientiary) were not expected to carry out any of their duties after they had been bloodlet, and their deputies filled in. This did not apply to the main office-bearers, such as the prior, sacrist, cellarer and novice-master. On the third day after his bloodletting, the monk joined the rest of the community for some of the Offices and might read in the cloister; on the fourth day he was expected to play a full part in the daily life, although he did not necessarily engage in manual labour.

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