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Roche Abbey: the library

Plan of Roche Abbey showing the location of the library.(1/1)

Books that were used in the church, refectory, infirmary and cloister were kept in the library (the armarium), where they were closely guarded by the precentor and succentor. The library at Roche adjoined the sacristy and lay immediately to the south of the church, nearest the cloister. There is, unfortunately, no inventory of Roche’s medieval library, but a number of books survive, most of which are now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. These include works which we might expect to find in any monastic library, such as the writings of Augustine of Hippo, Gregory the Great and Ambrose of Milan; more unusual, however, is Roche’s copy of the Anglo-Norman romance, Li Romanz des Romanz.(3)


Artist's impression of a monk reading in the cloister
© Cistercians in Yorkshire
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Artist's impression of a monk reading in the cloister

In accordance with chapter 48 of the Rule of St Benedict, each monk was given a book to read at the start of Lent every year, which he was to read thoroughly during the daily period allocated to reading. The monks sat on stone benches in the north walkway of the cloister and read aloud, so that they could hear and feel the holy words, but quietly, so as not to disturb the others. Nobody was to leave the cloister during reading time and each monk was to make sure that his hood did not cover his face, so that it was clear he had not nodded off. No monk was to keep his book overnight but return it to the book cupboard.

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