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
assisting the guestmaster, reading for the community in the refectory
or officiating as priest for the week (hebdomadary).