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Reconstructed Cistercian tankard
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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Reconstructed Cistercian tankard

The cellarer was one of the leading monastic officials (or obedientiaries), and was chiefly responsible for the abbey’s provisions. His duties are carefully detailed in chapter 117 of the twelfth-century Cistercian customary, known as the Ecclesiastica Officia.
The cellarer and his assistant, the sub-cellarer, were to organise the community’s food and drink supplies, but were not to alter the prescribed quotas without permission from the abbot or prior. An exception was made for those who had recently undergone bloodletting and required a more fortifying diet, and also for visiting Cistercian monks, on the first day of their stay. Monks who were staying in the infirmary did not eat in the refectory with the rest of the community, but the infirmarer collected their daily supplies from the cellarer. The cellarer was to ensure that any leftover food which would not be required later was set aside for the porter; he would then distribute this as alms to the poor and needy.

Every week the cellarer – or his deputy – received the kitchen utensils from the kitchen assistants (who helped there on a weekly basis). He counted these to make sure everything was in order and then, in accordance, with chapter 35 of the Rule of St Benedict, passed the equipment to the new weekly helpers. On Maundy Thursday, when the abbot and monks ceremoniously washed the feet of a number of poor folk, in imitation of Christ washing the disciples’ feet, the cellarer appointed several lay-brothers to prepare and bring warm water and towels to the cloister. On Good Friday, the cellarer put warm water in the cloister after the liturgy of the altars, and made sure that the lay-brothers cleaned the church, the cloister and the chapter-house.

On account of his responsibilities and the nature of his duties, concessions were made to the cellarer. For example, he was permitted to speak with lay-brothers, servants and visitors, he might leave the refectory when eating and the dormitory when the others were asleep; he was permitted to miss certain Offices in the church if he was busy attending to his duties.