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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The reredorters
Plan of Rievaulx abbey showing the location of the reredorters(1/1)

The monks’ toilet block, known as the reredorters, occupied the upper level of a three-storey building that housed the novices’ quarters and cellarage. It was conveniently connected to the monks’ dormitory and could be entered through doors at the southern end of this room. The complex was also accessible from the novices’ house and the infirmary complex.

It was the custom in some Benedictine houses to send a responsible monk to the dormitory and latrine block before Matins was celebrated in the church, to make sure that no monk was still in bed or had fallen asleep on the privy!

[see The Monastic Constitutions of Lanfranc, ed. and tr. D. Knowles, rev. C. N. L. Brooke (Oxford, 2002), pp. 117-119.]

The reredorter ran over a branch of the River Rye, which meant that waste was carried away by running water. A line of privies would have been set against the southern wall, over the drain, and the monks would have sat on removable wooden seats. Individual closets may have been inserted in the fourteenth century, to provide the monks with greater privacy.
The brethren were allowed to use the toilets whenever necessary but were expected to exercise modesty at all times: they were to cover their faces with their hoods, fold their hands in front of them and ensure that their cowls reached the floor.

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