go to home page go to byland abbey pages go to fountains abbey pages go to kirkstall abbey pages go to rievaulx abbey pages go to roche abbey pages
The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Text only version

About the Project






Contact Us



A probationary member of the monastic community who was taught and supervised by the novice-master.

Anyone who wished to become a Cistercian monk had to undergo a trial period. In the first instance, he was admitted to the guesthouse as a postulant where, in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict, he remained for four days. He was then received within the monastery to begin a one-year testing period known as the novitiate. He was known as a novice. Most houses would have had separate quarters for the novices, where they ate, slept and were instructed in Cistercian ways by the novice-master, to make then ‘worthy vessels of God and acceptable to the Order’ [Walter Daniel]. During this time the novice wore a mantle and stole; he did not wear the monastic cowl but a sleeveless hooded mantle. Novices generally enjoyed a more relaxed diet than the other monks.

At the end of this trial period, the novice was formally received in the chapter-house as a full member of the monastic community. There, he made his will and received the tonsure from the sacrist, who burnt his hair in a special piscina; he then proceeded to the church for Mass and took vows of obedience, stability and chastity. Whenever a novice entered a community it was expected that either he or his family would make gifts to the abbey. Communities that were burdened with debts might be prohibited from receiving novices.

A satirical verse, Mirror for Fools, by Nigel Wireker, a monk from the Benedictine community at Christ Church, Canterbury, suggests that Cistercian novices were served more substantial meals than their brethren:

They’ll feed me well while I’m a novice yet, but keep me busy, for to all are set their special tasks, lest any seem to be slothful, or lacking share in industry. A Sabbath-rest is rare, for with less work there’s less to eat is good reason not to shirk. The rod’s in frequent use, the diet’s rough; unappetising fare’s though good enough.
[Nigel Wireker, Mirror for Fools, p. 62.]