1295 the workings of a monastery

The Priory of St Giles and St Andrews Barnwell, an Augustine monastery just outside Cambridge has left a detailed record not just of the usual history of monastic charters and the history of its abbots such as we find for many other medieval monasteries, but also a detailed account of the roles of the various officers within the monastery. This survival gives an unusual insight into the workings of the monastery and the complexity and structure of monastic life at the close of the 13th century.

In this extract we see the duties of the Cellarer, Hosteller and Chamberlain described and we can immediately get a feel for the range and scope not just of monastic property, but of the monastery as an employer of laymen and hence its importance to the local economy. In the person of the Hosteller we see that the monastery took seriously it's responsibility for looking after guests as well as its own brethren and servants.


The Cellarer

The Cellarer should be wise, cautious and thrifty. Everything that belongs to the monastery, be it lands or churches excepting only that which belongs to other officers (of the monastery) is in his custody.

Part of the Cellarers duty is to attend to all things connected to food, drink and fire, whether for the brewhouse, the bakery or the kitchens. Moreover the carriage of goods be it by land or water, the repairs to houses and any purchases of iron, steel, wood, ploughs and wagons with all purchases of bacon, salt, dried fish, gowns and wine; all with the entire care of the monastery, both inside and out apart from the duties of other officers, fall under the authority of the Cellarer. On account of this, he should frequently visit manors, plough lands and (sheep) folds to take note of the stores and to keep a sharp look-out on the character, deeds and zeal of those lay brethren and all the servants in charge of the manors, lest they sell, stores, wheat or wool or make presents, become addicted to squanderings, revellings or presume to make changes without his (the cellarer’s) advice and direction. Moreover he should make cautious inquiry into the actions of the overseer and the reaper to ascertain if they are faithful, fit for their position and careful to promote the interests of their masters (the brethren), and whether they take presents, frequent inns, or keep useless servants who are weak in their work, insolent or rebellious and whether the farm labourers and other servants are faithful, carefully watching over their flocks and spending the night among them, or whether they wander abroad at night on occasion and are idle.

The Cellarer moreover, should act prudently in his care of the locks of the granges and the granary, of the men who thrash and women who winnow, or the proceeds of the barn whether the measure be full or lacking, of allowance of seed, and why there is less in one year than in another, of the profits of the manors, of the profits of the court, of the increase in the stores and in all other matters, so that none of the property of the monastery be at any time wasted by theft insufficient guardianship or negligence.

The Cellarer should frequently discuss the affairs of the monastery with the Prelate and ask his advice and wishes and draw his attention to the state of the manors and to all emergencies as they arise. Nor ought he without consent, sell or buy lands, lease them or change their tenants or remove any lay brethren or other overseers of the manors without having consulted him (the Prelate). He should not lend money entrusted to him by the Prelate beyond a given sum to anyone, nor borrow any or to allow himself to be named as a surety for anothers debt. He should on no account enter into any transaction for sale at an inflated price with the intention of making a profit, nor should he buy anything in the manner of a tradesman, but he may be allowed as a prudent man, to withhold the property of the monastery, both food for cattle and corn that is to be offered for sale, until a favourable opportunity presents itself, and then to dispose of it for the benefit of the Church without sin.

When the Cellarer is obliged to make a journey with the intention of not returning the same day, or of staying with some other person, he should inform the Prelate of else the president if the Prelate is absent, of the cause of the journey and of the time of his return so that it will be known where he is to be found should any new emergency arise. When the Cellarer returns home be it before dinner or after dinner, he should report in person to the Prelate before he presumes to take food anywhere, and then he should take food in one place or another at the bidding of the Prelate. When the Cellarer is at work outside the precincts of the house it is usual for the Prelate to give special orders that part of the food set before him should be reserved for him (the Cellarer) for in temporal matters it is as if the Cellarer sits at the Prelates right hand. After the Prelate, the Cellarer has the first voice in his own office and all his servants should obey him as if he spoke through the Prelates lips.

It should be remembered that the cellarer should be present at the canonical Hours whenever he can find leisure. On working days in autumn his attendance at the Hours and at Mattins should not be insisted on (presumably because of the harvest) but he ought to say them in private and once at least each day, if possible to hear and celebrate mass in full. He is entered down (on the rota of tasks) to keep his week as for any other brother and to perform all other duties required by the observances in accordance with the Rule but it has never been the custom that he should be entered for reading at table or for serving.


Of the Hosteller

It is proper for the Hosteller to hold frequent conversation with guests of different sex and condition (ie rank) and so it becomes that he should not just have facility of expression but also elegant manners and a respectable upbringing. Through these accomplishments, in walking, standing and all his movements, he should neither do nor say anything other than that which shows monastic life in a creditable light. If he has no substance to bestow he must at least show a cheerful countenance with agreeable conversation, for friends are multiplied by agreeable words.

Having regard for the variety of guests to be entertained the Hosteller should enter the cellar and the kitchen and ask or that which is required and his requests, if reasonable should not be refused. By showing cheerful hospitality to guests, so the reputation of the monastery is increased, friendships are multiplied, animosities blunted, God honoured, charity increased and a plenteous reward in heaven is promised.

It is part of the Hostellers duty to be careful that perfect cleanliness and prosperity should be found in his department namely he should keep clean cloths and towels, cups without defects, spoons of silver, mattresses, blankets, sheets both clean and untorn, proper pillows, quilts to fully cover the bed by width and length and pleasing to the eye of those entering the room, a proper laver of metal, a basin clean both inside and out ; in winter a candle and candlesticks ; fire that does not smoke; writing materials, clean salt in salt cellars that are well scrubbed, food served in porringers that have been well washed and are unbroken, the whole Guest-house kept clear of spiders-webs and dirt, and strewn with rushes underfoot, a supply of hay in the necessary house and the seats covered, a sufficient quantity of straw in the beds ; keys and locks to the doors, and good bolts on the inside, so as to keep the doors securely closed while the guests are asleep. Further, in these as in other matters pertaining to his office he should love propriety and cleanliness, he should avoid waste, theft and extravagance.

The Hosteller should have a faithful, sober and courteous servant who shall not go to bed as long as he is aware that there are guests at the table, so that he can put our the candles, see  that the fire is left protected and guard against other such accidents. When guests leave he should be present from very early morning, lest through an oversight, they should forget or leave behind a sword, knife or some other article of that sort and lest some property belonging to his office should accidentally be taken away. When they are gone he should fold up the sheets and coverlets, get together and store in a safe place all the vessels he had put our overnight, throw up and lay smoothly the bedding, arrange a suitable place for cushions and chairs, trestle sand tables; clear away the ashes form the hearth and if there be dirt anywhere remove it completely. When he has finished he should close the doors and when the Hosteller enters, he should go through a full inventory with him lest anything should be missing.


On the office of Chamberlain

It is the main duty of the Chamberlain to provide warm water for the shaving of the monastery and soap for the washing of heads. He is to provide soap for baths of the brethren if it is asked for.

The Chamberlain should provide a laundress of good character and reputation to wash the garments of the monastery. She should be able to mend and wash all the linen of the brethren, namely surplices, rochets, sheets, shirts and drawers. the linen should be washed once a fortnight in summer and once in three weeks in winter. The Chamberlain is both to give it out to the laundress and receive it back again against tallies. If any items are missing through the negligence of the laundress she is to make it good herself out of her wages.

Moreover the Chamberlain should provide a servant who shall be fitting of his place, trustworthy and sober, unassuming and not talkative, nor drunken nor lying. He is to know how to shape in due form the brethrens woollen and linen garments which are neither to be too sumptuous nor too sordid. These (garments) the servant of the Tailery is to shape in such a way that they bee not too long, too short, hanging down unevenly, badly cut or in any other way arranged contrary to custom or so as to attract attention, but having regard to the stature of each brother so as to fit him properly and according to custom.

The servant of the Tailery should by virtue of his office, be summoned frequently into the interior privacy of the monastery where he will have the opportunity of both hearing and seeing the secrets of the brothers. Because of this he should be obliging and secret as aforementioned.


Translated from the transcription by J. Clark in 1897 of MS Harley 3601 known as the Barnwell Register