Everyday life in the monastery (Cistercians)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Maulbronn Monastery Church

Everyday life in the contemplative Christian monasteries is characterized by a rhythm of prayer and work ( ora et labora ), which is structured by the hours of prayer .

Using the example of the Cistercian monastery of Maulbronn, it is intended to show what the everyday life of the monks looked like.

Staff in the monastery

The members of a monastery lived in a strongly hierarchical community.


The abbot is the head of the abbey , who is freely chosen by all friars. (In the early Middle Ages , however, he was often appointed by the king.) After his election by the confreres, every member of the monastery is obliged to obey him unconditionally. He represents the monastery externally, concludes contracts and decides, usually after consultation with his confreres, on the purchase and sale of monastery goods. In the Middle Ages he was often only subject to the emperor. There were only two limits to his authority, the rule of the order and the general chapter . The monastery was visited annually by the abbot of the mother abbey, and once a year all the monastery boards met for the general chapter. The monastery administrations were checked there and abbots who were unfit for work were occasionally removed.


The prior is appointed by the abbot. He represents the abbot in his absence and otherwise heads the internal service. He is at the head of the friars with whom he shares the daily routine. He presides over all meetings and distributes the day's work on behalf of the abbot. At the time of the retreat he was a master and pastor.

Cellar master

The winemaker ( cellarer ) is the abbot of the prior of the most important assistant. He is the monastery administrator, through whose hand all income goes. He presided over the lay brothers ( conversations ) who owed him an account. In order to be able to pursue this activity, he enjoyed freedoms like the lay brothers and did not have to keep the law of silence in matters relating to his work.


In contrast to the lay brothers, the conversers, the monks are primarily there for pastoral care and worship. Quite a few are active in the school service or work as learned theologians or scientists outside the monastery. The lay brothers were mostly separated from the monks not only on business, but also spatially until modern times. A partition ran through the whole monastery, which became a "double institution". While the conversations mostly worked in agriculture or as craftsmen, the monks took care of the liturgy and spiritual work. According to the Carta Caritatis of the Cistercians, they were obliged to read and / or write in their daily routine .

Conversation Master

The so-called Conversation Master was the retreat master and pastor of the lay brothers. He led the divine service for the conversations, made their confessions and visited the craftsmen in the workshops, the shepherds in the fields, the herders and winemakers on the farms.


The conversers or lay brothers are also monks. They, too, are obliged to keep quiet, pray, sing and fast, but at times differed from the priest monks in their clothing and hairstyle. Instead of the habit they wore a sleeveless upper garment and a different tonsure . They lived within the monastery as a community of practical workers as shepherds, winemakers, fishermen and craftsmen of all kinds, but were not really subordinate to the priest monks. Today, lay monks are largely on an equal footing with priest monks, with the exception of ordination as priests. Even lay monks can, due to their secular professions, pursue higher-level tasks. Converses are still to be presented as workers.

daily routine

The daily routine of the monks was structured by the eight daily hours of the Liturgy of the Hours , which St. Benedict of Nursia prescribed for the monks.

They should speak to God with Psalm 119 : "I praise you seven times during the day and in the middle of the night I get up to thank you" .

In the Middle Ages, the monks slept dressed on straw mats, while a light was on all night. At 2 o'clock the subprior wakes the brothers to Matutin with a bell . Immediately everyone gets up to walk to the gentlemen's choir, lit by three candles. The Our Father and the creed are followed by psalms and hymns of praise, then the abbot speaks the blessing. After a chant, the monks sat down to listen to passages from the Bible or the Church Fathers. After the fourth lesson, the Gloria is intoned, followed by psalms again, until a verse leads to the closing prayer. This vigil can last up to three hours. If there is time left, the monks in the chapter house have to read.

At the beginning of dawn, the bell calls for lauds , in which mainly psalms of praise are sung. Then there is a pause. Immediately after sunrise, the monks gather for the prim with the solemn high mass . Now the monks go into the chapter house. A priest reads a short sermon, then a chapter from the Rule of the Order. Then the names of those monks who have something to atone are read out. All deceased brothers of the Order and their deceased relatives are remembered. Finally the leader takes the floor and interprets the chapter of the order's rule that has been read out. Then he goes on to punish the transgressions. Every friar can accuse anyone. However, the accused is prohibited from responding with a counter-charge on the same day. The flagellation is then carried out. The penitent undresses up to the belt, and while he is being whipped, he shouts: “ It is my fault, my greatest fault, I want to improve myself !” The leader determines when it is enough. Now all bow and move away. Only those who want to go to confession remain with the prior. Afterwards the instructions for the various daily chores are given in the parlatorium, in summer many monks go to the fields, in winter they do housework or read edifying writings.

The third, the fourth service, is exactly between the sunrise and midday of the sun. Those who do not have a job occupy themselves with reading religious books in the cloister, up to the Sext , the midday service, followed by lunch in the men's refectory. The friars wash their hands in the fountain chapel, then everyone quietly steps into his seat. The prior rings the bell at the beginning until the 51st psalm is prayed in silence. The whole choir then speaks “benedicite” , then half- choir against half- choir the Gloria and Kyrie eleison ; the end is a half-loud Our Father. Now the priest of the week says: “ We plead, Lord, bless your gifts !” Then everyone crosses himself and takes his seat. Lunch mostly consists of porridge and legumes, only fish and poultry are allowed as meat dishes. In addition, each monk receives a pound of black bread and half a cup (0.27 liters) of wine every day, which is mixed with water. You must observe silence during the meal. At the same time, pieces from the Bible or the church fathers, including parts of a sermon, are read out on the pulpit in the dining room. Anyone who speaks will have their wine or food taken away or they will be physically punished. At the end, the prior gives a signal with the bell, whereupon everyone gets up and says a verse of thanks together. While singing a psalm, the monks go to church in pairs for a prayer of thanks.

When all the ceremonies are over, the monks have a short bed rest and move in rank and file to the dormitory. After the sign to get up, they rush to the well chapel to wash their eyes.

Exactly in the middle between noon and sunset, the bell calls to Non , which is again celebrated in the church with prayer, hymns, psalms and lectures. In summer it is now back to the refectory, where the beaver is consumed under all kinds of ceremonies, some water in which everyone could also pour some of their wine.

Now a few more hours of work follow until Vespers , the evening service. This penultimate service is followed by a cold dinner, then the evening lesson in the cloister. The stories of the holy fathers are read aloud, including Cassian's conversations about monastic life. Then everyone goes to church for the final prayer of the day, Compline , which completes the number of hours. At the end everyone is sprinkled with holy water by the abbot (or prior ) and goes into the dormitory.

Individual evidence

  1. Abbreviated from: Gustaf Lang; Guide through the Maulbronn Monastery


  • Gustav Lang: Guide through the Maulbronn Monastery. Brackenheim: Verlag Georg Kohl, 1959
  • Ulrich Knapp: The Maulbronn Monastery. History and building history. Stuttgart 1997.
  • Michael Töpfer: The conversations of the Cistercians. In: Berlin historical studies. Volume 10. Berlin 1983.

Web links