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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

View Movies The infirmary

Plan of Kirkstall abbey showing the location of the church(1/3)

The infirmary complex at Kirkstall dates from the thirteenth century and probably replaced an earlier wooden building that stood on a north-south axis. It comprised a large stone aisled hall, a chapel, and a kitchen block with a scullery. The complex stood to the east of the monastery where it was served by a branch of the main drain. Whilst the infirmary was removed from the cloister buildings, passages connected the two, reflecting that although the inmates of the infirmary were removed from the daily cycle of conventual life they were, nevertheless, monks and part of the Kirkstall community.

At Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire individual cells with fireplaces were created in the fifteenth century, to provide greater privacy and comfort for the inmates; in the late fourteenth century the infirmary at Meaux, Yorkshire, was divided into small chambers.

The large aisled hall stood at the heart of the complex and measured 25m x 14m internally. It would have been spacious, airy and warm, or at least warmer than the monks’ dormitory where heating was forbidden. The infirmary was one of the few places where it was permitted to have a fire – a large fireplace in the NE wall may have been used for cooking; in the fourteenth century fireplaces were built in the western part of the southern aisle and in the northern aisle opposite.(1) When individual cubicles were later built in the hall, each of these may have had a fire. The hall was originally designed as an open-plan ward, with the beds arranged around the sides. The space in the centre could have been used as a dining area and also for exercise.(2) However, by the fourteenth / fifteenth century the hall was probably partitioned to provide small cubicles, and individual rooms built on an upper level.(3) Such changes were common at this time, and provided greater comfort and privacy.