Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

Space can be thought of as sacred, even as a spiritual need. Comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell speaks in The Power of Myth of creating for yourself a sacred space where you go regularly to remove yourself from the electronics and the general distracting hubbub. Nothing might be happening in your space at first, but soon something will — probably something artistic. It certainly happened in the Middle Ages.

Consistent with the Western cultural impulse to concretize, rural medieval monasteries were built for people to remove themselves from society and lead lives of holy contemplation (even though this can be done, with some effort and commitment, just personally). But far from being tombs for the living, monasteries actually functioned as hospitals, hotels, schools, libraries, scriptoriums, tourist sites, farms, research facilities, distilleries, and so on.

St. Benedict founded a monastery in the late sixth century at Monte Cassino, Italy. Benedictine monks (black monks) followed Benedict’s “Rule” — instruction on the proper contemplative life, with emphasis on vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Cistercians (white monks) began in 1128. Augustinians, Premonstratensians, and Gilbertines followed.

[St. Francis (c. 1182-1226) founded the Franciscan order of friars who travelled the countryside instead of residing in monasteries. These kinds of mendicant orders undertook preaching missions but also were interested in literary matters sometimes. Dominicans (black friars) began in 1221, Franciscans (grey friars) in 1224, Carmelites (white friars) in 1240, and Austin friars in 1248.]

At least in the ideal, monasteries were cut off from the world, and so they usually grew their own food, kept bees for honey and candlewax, and so on. But they also helped the poor, cared for the sick, and welcomed pilgrims.

Chant was a pervasive part of monastic life where you would work six hours (possibly on the farmland that typically surrounded the monastery), spend three hours in spiritual reading, and five hours in communal worship. Your presence and participation was required at the following services:

Matins (= morning) — 2:00 am in winter, later in summer. Afterwards you might go back to bed or perhaps just study.
Lauds (= praise, sunrise).
Prime (= first, soon after Lauds, 6:00 am).
Terce (= third, 9:00 am).
Sext (= sixth, midday).
None (= ninth, 3:00 pm).
Vespers (= evening, sunset).
Compline (= completed hour, soon after Vespers, before retiring).

Stop bitching. It’s good for you.