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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

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Who's Who in the Abbey

Read more about the abbot, monastic officials and other members of the Cistercian community.

A Cistercian community was made up of many different people, some of whom had administrative duties. The abbot was head of the monastery and a father figure to the monks. He was helped with the daily running of the abbey by various senior monks who had special duties and were known as obedientiaries. This arrangement was known as the obedientiary system. Each monastic officials was in charge of an office. For example, the porter was responsible for welcoming guests and distributing alms to the poor and needy, the cellarer looked after the abbey’s provisions, and the infirmarer tended sick members of the community. The obedientiary system had its origins in the Rule of St Benedict. However, whereas the offices named in the Rule were essentially domestic in nature, the growing complexity of monastic administration throughout the Middle Ages meant that each obedientiary became more involved with managerial work, and was often assisted by a monastic helper, such as the sub-porter or sub-cellarer, and perhaps also by lay servants. Furthermore, a number of additional posts were created.

Every monk was expected to help with the day to day tasks, and every week the precentor compiled a rota assigning a duty to each member of the community. This might involve helping in the kitchen, assisting the guestmaster, reading for the community in the refectory or officiating as priest for the week (hebdomadary).