English Monastic Life, by Dom Adrian Gasquet

Saint Benedict, Patriarch of Western Monks


This volume does not appear to call for any lengthy preface. It should introduce and explain itself, inasmuch as, beyond giving a brief account of the origin and aim of each of the Orders existing in England in pre-Reformation days, and drawing up a general list of the various houses, all I have attempted to do is to set before the reader, in as plain and popular a manner as I could, the general tenor of the life lived by the inmates in any one of those monastic establishments. In one sense the picture is ideal; that is, all the details of the daily observance could not perhaps be justified from an appeal to the annals or custumals of any one single monastery. Regular or religious life was never, it must be borne in mind, such a cast-iron system, or of so stereotyped a form, that it could not be, and for that matter frequently was, modified in this or that particular, according to the needs of places, circumstances, and times. Even in the case of establishments belonging to the same Order or religious body this is true; and it is of course all the more certainly true in regard to houses belonging to different Orders. Still, as will be explained later, the general agreement of the life led in all the monastic establishments is so marked, that it has been found possible to sketch a picture of that life which, without being perhaps actually exact in every particular for any one individual house, is sufficiently near to the truth in regard to all the houses in general. The purposes for which the various parts of the monastery were designed and were used, the duties assigned to the numerous officials, the provisions by which the well-being and order of the establishment were secured, the disposition of the hours of the day, and the regulations for carrying out the common conventual duties, etc., were similar in all religious bodies in pre-Reformation days; and, if regard be paid to the changed circumstances, are still applicable to the monastic and religious establishments now existing in England.

The Monastic Life

The Material Parts of A Monastery

The Monastery and Its Rulers

The Obedientiaries

The Daily Life In A Monastery

The Nuns of Mediaeval England

External Relations of the Monastic Orders

The Paid Servants of the Monastery

The Various Religious Orders

The various Orders existing in England in pre-Reformation days may be classified under four headings: (1) Monks, (2) Canons Regular, (3) Military Orders, and (4) Friars. As regards the nuns, most of the houses were affiliated to one or other of the above-named Orders.


The Canons Regular

The clergy of every large church were in ancient times called canonici – canons – as being on the list of those who were devoted to the service of the Church. In the eighth century, Chrodegand, bishop of Metz, formed the clergy of his cathedral into a body, living in common under a rule and bound to the public recitation of the Divine Office. They were known still as canons, or those living under a rule of life like the monks, from the true meaning of a rule. This common life was in time abandoned in spite of the provisions of several Councils, and then institutions other than Cathedral Chapters became organised upon lines similar to those laid down by Chrodegand, and they became known as Canons Regular. They formed themselves generally on the so-called Rule of Saint Augustine, and became known, in England at least, as Augustinian Canons, Premonstratensian Canons, and Gilbertine Canons.

The Military Orders

The Friars

The friars differed from the monks in certain ways. The brethren by their profession were bound, not to any locality or house, but to the province, which usually consisted of the entire number of houses in a country. They did not, consequently, form individual families in their various establishments, like the monks in their monasteries. They also, at first, professed the strictest poverty, not being allowed to possess even corporate property like the monastic Orders. They were by their profession mendicants, living on alms, and only holding the mere buildings in which they dwelt.

The Lesser Friars

MLA Citation

  • Dom Adrian Gasquet. English Monastic Life, 1904. CatholicSaints.Info. 28 November 2018. Web. 23 April 2021. <>