Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Canonical dwelling, enjoying autonomy, governed by an abbot, and housing at least 12 monks. The great Abbeys of Europe grew out of the caves, abandoned tombs, and mud huts of the hermits, first established in the desert by St. Anthony of Egypt (3d-4th centuries). The founders of the earliest monasteries were the hermits who attracted disciples, their huts clustering around that of the solitary. St. Pachomius (c.290-346) introduced a simple order by laying out these huts in rows and erecting community buildings surrounded by a wall. He also devised a single, self-contained building, with cells for the monks, as a novitiate community life before attempting the the hermitical. Eventually the conventual life superseded the hermitical. Its adoption by St. Benedict (6th century) and the spread of monasticism under the influence of his rule standardized the housing of the monks by standardizing their life. At first Roman villa, its buildings arranged around a quadrangle, was adapted to monastic life, the form varying with local conditions and customs. The initial buildings included oratory, dormitory, refectory, kitchens, infirmary, and conference room. As the monks also worked the fields, cultivated the arts, and plied various trades, barns, stables, and workshop were added. The large abbeys became self contained cities. The abbeys became extremely beautiful and imposing structures, passing from the architecture of the Roman basilica trough Romanesque to Gothic. Each bore the place name of its location, whether in the wilderness or in the city; some also bore the name of the founder or of a saint whose relics were there.

Consult Braufels, Wolfgang, Monasteries of Western Europe: The Architecture of the Orders (1973); Hogg, Gary, Priories and Abbeys of England (1972); Vale, Edmund, Abbies and Priories (1956); Wright, Geoffery, Abbeys and Priories (1971).

Walter H. Turner

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