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  Plan of Roche abbey showing the lay-brothers' range(1/2)
Roche Abbey: the lay-brothers' range

The western range at Roche, as at other Cistercian houses, was primarily used by lay-brothers who worked and lived at the abbey rather than on the granges. Here they had their own refectory, dormitory and toilet-block (reredorters). An infirmary for their use, a three-bayed double-aisled hall, was situated on the south bank of the river and accessed by a footbridge. The northern part of the western range was used as a cellar and also had an outer parlour, which functioned as a meeting place - merchants might conduct business here, the monks might speak with family and friends. The parlour also gave access to the cloister. In Benedictine houses, where there were no lay-brothers, the western range was occupied by the cellarer and might also accommodate guests.

Artist's impression of a lay-brothers' refectory
© Cistercians in Yorkshire
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Artist's impression of the lay brothers refectory

The western range at Roche was one of the first buildings to be constructed; it dates from the late twelfth century. The entire range measured c. 43m x c. 12m externally (c. 41m x c. 9m internally) and was divided into ten bays. A moderately-sized vaulted cellar occupied the northernmost three bays. It was here that grain, salted fish and other provisions for the community were stored, as well as hides and wool that were to be taken to market or sold to merchants. The cellar was screened off from the parlour in bay four; a second partition separated the outer parlour from the lay-brothers’ refectory, which occupied the remaining six bays. The timber or stone tables in the refectory were probably arranged around the walls and, like the monks, the lay-brothers would have faced inwards to eat. As there was no reading during the lay-brothers’ meals their refectory had no pulpit. Nonetheless, the lay-brothers were to remain silent while eating and observe good table manners. The lay-brothers’ ate the same food as the monks but generally received larger portions, on account of their heavy labour. They were also served a light breakfast, the mixt, which was taken by novices, servers and the infirm. Their food was prepared in the same kitchen as the monks’ and was passed to the refectory through a serving hatch in the east wall. The lay-brothers at Roche may also have gathered in the refectory for their weekly chapter meeting.