A hard day's night

As a monk in the middle ages following the Rule of St. Benedict, your life was a punishing regime of prayer, reading and manual labour. Monastic life differed amongst the orders. The Cistercians observed an even stricter regime than the Benedictines.

Your daily routine (horarium) was based on the rising and setting of the sun and changed with the seasons; this routine follows the winter timetable.


Wake up for Vigils/nocturns


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Monks in the chapel.

You are awoken by ringing of bells, signalling the night office of Vigils.

By candlelight, you chant in unison, sing psalms and say prayers for the dead. It's hard to stay awake and some monks suck on peppercorns to try and stop themselves nodding off. After the service, Benedictine monks have a quick snooze - Cistercians, on the other hand, are afforded no such luxury and read or pray.


Back to church for Lauds


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Monks sing.

As the sun rises, it is time for Lauds - a service at daybreak which symbolises Christ's resurrection.

After Lauds, those who are priests celebrate private masses, while the others read in the cloister. As you and your fellow monks read aloud, there's an audible hum. It is believed reading aloud helps you to concentrate on the words.


Scrub up


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Monks washes feet.

After another short service which is known as Prime, it’s time for you to wash your face and hands and get changed into your day shoes.

You wear a habit which consists of a simple tunic, a hood known as a cowl and a belt. An apron-like garment (scapula) is worn when you are working. Traditionally monastic habits were black, a sign of humility. However, the Cistercians wore habits of undyed wool to proclaim their poverty since dyes were expensive.


Study hard


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Monk transcribing text.

You now have time for reading or study.

You read theological and classical texts, and transcribe them to preserve knowledge for future generations. Three hours after sunrise you attend the service of Terce where you ask the Holy Spirit for strength in dealing with the conflicts of your day.


Confess your sins


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Penitent monk.

You go to the Chapter meeting held in the chapter house and confess your sins.

The meeting begins with a prayer, after which the Rule of St Benedict is read out. You are then invited to admit your faults and atone for them. Anyone who does not voluntarily confess is reported and punished.


Work hard



Two monks toil in the fields.

The prior bangs on a wooden board to summon the brethren to the parlour.

It's time to carry out your weekly chores around the monastery. Monks in Cistercian monasteries have a harder time and are required to do hard manual labour. At midday, you go to another brief service, Sext, where you remember Christ's crucifixion.


Eat dinner


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Monks sit down for dinner.

After None, a short service where you commemorate the death of Christ, it's time for dinner.

You wash your hands before entering the refectory . Your meal consists of a choice of two cooked dishes made from cereal and vegetables, perhaps with a bit of added fish, egg or cheese and a third dish of fruit or vegetables. You have to be silent in the refectory and listen to the reader while you eat. In summer, you have a siesta after the meal before going back to study in the cloister. A light supper is served in summer to sustain you through the longer days.


Attend Vespers


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Monks sing by candle light.

At dusk, you gather for Vespers. As the sky grows dark the monks light candles in the church to ward off the darkness.

The lighting of the lamps echoes ancient Jewish rites described in the Old Testament which were performed in the Temple. This very solemn service is also known as Evensong. Again you chant in unison and sing psalms.


Drink a cup of ale



Monk drinks beer.

You drink a cup of ale and then listen to a Collations reading.

The abbot reads from the "Conferences of the Desert Fathers" by the fourth-century monk Saint John Cassian. At sunset, you attend the office of Compline which signals the end of the day. From this time silence is observed until the following morning; any essential communication is made using signs.


Get to bed



Sleeping monks.

At last, you retire to bed. You sleep in a large dormitory, alongside your brothers.

If you change into your night habit you need to take great pains not to expose your body. As you sleep, senior brothers patrol the dorm keeping an eye out for any illicit behaviour. Some monks fear the night as they believe the devil is most active then seeking to lead the sleeping monks astray.