Whenever a guest knocked
at the door, the porter replied ‘Deo Gratias’, opened the door, and greeted him with the Benedictus. Thereafter, he humbly asked
what the visitor wanted, bowed and seated the visitor in his cell while
he went to announce the arrival to the abbot.
The porter or his helper, manned the abbey gate
from Lauds to Compline each
day. He was a monastic official of some standing, and several monks
who held this post were promoted to the abbacy. He wore the scapular while
working and whenever the Offices were
sung in the church he was to pull
up his hood and remain in silence.
At the end of Compline the porter closed
the gate and returned to the cloister.
The porter represented the abbey to the outside
world and mediated between outsiders and the community. He welcomed
exact procedure that he should follow is detailed fully in the
twelfth-century customary of the Order), announced their
arrival and communicated their requests to the abbot. Above all
the porter ensured that they did not disrupt monastic life within.
Whereas the Benedictine houses appointed an almoner to dispense
on behalf of the community, this was the task of the Cistercian
porter – he distributed food and clothing to the poor and
at Beaulieu Abbey, Hampshire,
it was the porter’s responsibility
to select thirteen poor people to be fed and lodged in the abbey’s
hospice each night. The porter was also to exercise discretion
and was not to give alms to women of the neighbouring villages – except
in times of famine – or to those who were too lazy to work.(1)