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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The chapter-house

Plan of Rievaulx abbey showing the location of the chapter house(1/4)

The chapter-house was a focal point of monastic life. It was here that the monks gathered for an hour each day to attend the chapter meeting, so called as proceedings began with the reading of a chapter from the Rule of St Benedict. The monks sat on wooden or stone benches around the walls and the abbot, or his deputy who presided in his place, occupied a pulpit in the eastern part of the room; there was also a lectern here for the reader.

I know that you are used to welcoming with utter joy the feast days of the saints whenever they occur and that you heighten your fervour by recalling and meditating on their lives and perfections. Yet, I think that this feast of our holy Father Benedict means more to you than others and is in some way more welcome … because he, our own Father, is closer to us than the other saints …
[Read more from Aelred’s sermon for the Feast of Saint Benedict]

The community gathered in the chapter-house on feast days when the abbot delivered a sermon. This was also where business was discussed, punishment meted out and distinguished visitors welcomed. The chapter-house was a common place of burial for abbots. Seven graveslabs and three coffins of former abbots have been found in Rievaulx’s chapter-house. William, the first abbot of the house, and the renowned Abbot Aelred were both buried here in the twelfth century. In 1250 William’s reliquary was moved to a new shrine outside the chapter-house and Aelred was translated to the remodelled presbytery in the church, where he was interred in a gold and silver tomb behind the High Altar.

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