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Fountains Abbey: Location

Fountains Abbey: History
Trials and Tribulations
Strength and Stability
End of Monastic Life

Fountains Abbey: Buildings
Chapter House
Warming House
Day Room
Lay Brothers' Range
Abbots House
Outer Court

Fountains Abbey: Lands

Fountains Abbey: People

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The refectory


At table not only should the monks take food, but their ears should
draw their fill of the Word of God. No one should concentrate entirely
on eating, but such attention should be given to the Word of God that
only the mouth takes food while the ears take the Word. If one receives
less nutritious food than others, then one’s joy should be greater. Those
who bear privation with zeal are truly blessed.

[Arnulph of Bohéries, twelfth century] (71)

The monks did not wear their cowls in the refectory and ate in silence, communicating essential information by making signs with their fingers and hands.
[Read more about sign language]

The pulpitum wall recess at Fountains
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
<click to enlarge>
The refectory at Fountains

Those who did not observe silence were punished. The only voice to be heard was that of the reader, who stood in a pulpit in the west wall that he accessed via stairs. He edified the monks with readings from the Bible or another holy book, for it was intended that the monks should feed their minds as well as their bodies during meals. It was important that the monks behaved appropriately in the refectory and had good table manners. For example, drinking cups were to be held with both hands and the monks were to reach out for the salt with the tip of their knives; the used blade, like other dirty utensils, was to be wiped on a piece of bread rather than the napkin.

Mealtimes were not an excuse for frivolity or light-relief and the monks were expected to eat quickly. Meals lasted for about half an hour and concluded with a thanksgiving. The whole community proceeded to the church for grace, but if a distinguished visitor was present this might be postponed, out of respect.(72) It is important to note that the monastic refectory was reserved for the monks of Fountains and visiting Cistercians. The lay-brothers dined in their own refectory in the western range and outsiders ate in the guesthouse with the abbot. Novices may have dined separately in the novices’ house where, under the guidance of the novice-master, they were schooled in Cistercian customs and prepared for their lives as full members of the community.

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