The monks’ dormitory at Rievaulx was over
seventy-five metres long and some ten metres wide. About 140 monks
could have been accommodated here. In the late fourteenth century,
when numbers had substantially decreased, the dormitory was reduced
to about thirty metres in length. The dormitory was situated on
the first floor of the eastern range and accessed during the day
by a staircase from the cloister; the bottom steps of this survive.
To enter the church at night, to celebrate the office of Vigils,
the monks used a separate staircase that provided a covered passage
from the dormitory to their choir, across the vestibule of the
During the day light shone into the dormitory
through a series of windows on either side but one or two lanterns
have burned at all times to prevent misconduct. These lanterns
were placed in such a way that they illuminated the monks’ toilet
block (reredorters), which was situated at the far end
of the dormitory; there were two doorways here – the monks entered through
one and left by another, ensuring one-way traffic.
Strange smells in the dormitory?
A rather unusual feature at the southern end of the east range is the tannery,
where leather was made from tanning skins. This was a long and smelly
process, and it is certainly surprising that a building of this kind
should have been placed so close to the monks’ dormitory. The
stench must have been terrible.