From all your readings strive to make progress
[Stephen of Sawley, one time monk and abbot of Fountains]
that were used in the church, refectory, infirmary and cloister
were kept in a cupboard [armarium], under the auspices
of the precentor and succentor.
This was situated beside the sacristy, adjacent to the south transept
of the church. There was also storage space
for books in the westernmost part of the chapter-house. At the
start of Lent, each monk was given a book for the year which he
was to read thoroughly during the daily period allocated to
reading, as stipulated in chapter 48 of the Rule
of St Benedict.
He was not to keep his book overnight but to return it to the book
cupboard for safekeeping. The monks sat on stone benches in the
north walkway of the cloister and read aloud, but quietly. Nobody
was to leave the cloister during reading time and the monks were
to make sure that their hoods did not cover their faces, just in
case anybody was tempted to catch forty winks. The monks spent
more time reading in winter and during Lent, when less time was
allocated to work; on Sundays they read during the work time as
well as the reading period.
According to Stephen
of Sawley, the more mature novice should ‘indulge in more solid
food’ by studying the Old and New Testaments. He should not simply
read these works to acquire knowledge for that was ‘merely curiosity’,
employ the Scriptures as a mirror to detect what was corrupt so that
he might correct this, and to see what was beautiful. Stephen also urged
the novice to memorise what he had learnt.
[Stephen of Sawley, Treatises, ‘A Mirror for Novices’ ch.
15, pp. 106-7.]
The community might lend some of its
books to outsiders. To make sure that these were treated with care
and returned to the monastery,
there was often an ‘Ex libris’ on the flyleaf
(essentially a ‘This book belongs to …’), and
sometimes also a caution to or a curse upon anyone who dared to
damage or retain