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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The abbot's lodgings


Seats in the abbot’s porch
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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Seats in the abbot’s porch at Rievaulx, from the south

The abbot originally slept in the dormitory with the rest of the community, as stipulated in the twelfth-century customary of the Order, but he later moved to his own separate lodgings. Abbot Aelred’s ill health meant that this move happened earlier at Rievaulx than elsewhere, for in the 1160s the General Chapter conceded that Aelred might move to the infirmary and there enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle.

Who was more sickly in body yet more vital in spirit? … In body he languished yet how much more again did he languish inwardly in spirit after the things of heaven. From the myrrh of his bodily suffering and the fragrance of his mind he offered up in one long holocaust the sweet-smelling incense of an unfailing love. His flesh might be withered and sore, his soul was feasted with marrow and fat.
[Gilbert of Hoyland, ‘In remembrance of Abbot Aelred’, in The Cistercian World: Monastic Writings of the Twelfth Century, pp. 221-2.]

[ Read more about sickness & health

However, Aelred’s biographer, Walter Daniel, explains that the abbot was unhappy with this arrangement which would not only remove him from the rigours of conventual life, and separate him from the brethren and his paternal duties. He therefore ordained that separate lodgings should be constructed for his use where he might receive care yet at the same time remain accessible to the community and visitors, and participate in conventual life. Thus, Aelred’s ‘mausoleum’ was built to the SE of the chapter-house where it was linked to the monks’ dormitory and adjoined the infirmary complex. This location meant that Abbot Aelred could access the infirmary to receive the necessary care, yet still feel a part of the community.(1)

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