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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

View Movies The western or lay-brother's range

Plan of Kirkstall abbey showing the location of the church(1/2)

The western range at Kirkstall, as at other Cistercian houses, was primarily used by lay-brothers who worked and lived at the abbey rather than on the granges. Here they had their own refectory, dormitory and toilet-block (reredorters); it is likely that a timber infirmary for their use was situated nearby. The northern part of the range was used as a cellar and also had an outer parlour which functioned as a meeting place - merchants might conduct business here, the monks might speak with family and friends. In Benedictine house, where there were no lay-brothers, the western range was occupied by the cellarer and generally also had accommodation for guests.

The western range in the early eighteenth century
© Abbey House Museum
Early eighteenth-century painting showing complete western range <br> Abbey House Museum

The western range at Kirkstall was vaulted and measured c. 50 m x 8 m. The building survived – complete with its roof – until 1746 when the southern and western walls collapsed. The range was divided into eleven bays, the northernmost of which was used as the outer parlour. The cellar occupied the next four bays (bays 2-5), and it was here that grain, salted fish and other provisions for the community were stored, as well as hides and wool that were to be taken to market or sold to merchants. The entrance to the cloister was in the sixth bay, and remains of the inner doorway, which is blocked up, are visible. The lay-brothers’ refectory occupied the ground floor of the remaining five bays (bays 7-11), and was entered through a wide door in the ninth bay. The tables would have been arranged around the walls and, like the monks, the lay-brothers would have sat facing inwards. There was no reading during the lay-brothers’ meals and consequently there was no pulpitum in their refectory. Nevertheless, the lay-brothers were to remain silent while eating and observe good table manners. The lay-brothers’ ate the same food as the monks but generally received larger portions on account of their heavy labour. They were also served a light breakfast, the mixt, which was taken by novices, servers and the infirm. Their food was prepared in the same kitchen as the monks’ and was passed to the refectory through a serving hatch in the eighth bay. The lay-brothers at Kirkstall may also have gathered in the refectory for their weekly chapter meeting.