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View movies Roche Abbey: the infirmary


The remains of the infirmary at Roche Abbey
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The remains of the infirmary at Roche abbey

The infirmary complex at Roche stood to the south-east of the monastery. Here the inhabitants were removed from the cloister buildings and the daily cycle of conventual life. Whilst separate they were nonetheless a part of the community and a covered passage linked the infirmary buildings with the cloister. This passage ran from the north end of the ‘day-room’ to the door of the infirmary, and traces of the foundation of the wall are visible today. The infirmary dates from the early thirteenth century, although there were major alterations and rebuilding in the fourteenth century. Not all the site has been excavated and the arrangement of the complex – where the buildings stood, how they were used and which of these were occupied by the abbot – is not entirely understood. There is more to be learned, but this requires further exploration and excavation of the site.

A spacious, aisled hall would have stood at the heart of the infirmary complex. This would have been airy and warm, or at least warmer than the monks’ dormitory where heating was forbidden - the infirmary was one of the few places where it was permitted to have a fire.

Privacy and comfort
At Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire individual cells with fireplaces were created in the fifteenth century to provide greater privacy and comfort for the inmates. In the late fourteenth century the infirmary at Meaux, Yorkshire, was divided into small chambers

The hall originally would have been open plan with the beds arranged around the sides and the space in the centre used for eating and perhaps also for exercise, but it is likely that the infirmary hall at Roche, as elsewhere, was later divided into individual cubicles to provide privacy and comfort. It is not known where the infirmary hall at Roche was situated. It may have been located to the north-east of the monks’ latrine-block, in an unexcavated part of the site, or in the two-storey oblong building, adjacent, although this may have been where the infirmarer had his lodgings. In addition to the aisled hall the infirmary complex probably included a chapel, cloister and service buildings, as well as private quarters for the infirmarer.