Extracted from The Monasticon, Rev J F S Gordon (1868) Vol 1.
Is a Syrian term signifying Father, Abbe, and was anciently applied to all Monks, but especially to those who were venerable for age or peculiar sanctity; and hence, in process of time, it was restricted n its application to the head of the Establishment. The appointment of Abbot was usually considered to be vested in the King, although the Benedictine Rule requires a previous Election by the Monks; and the power and authority which were thus conferred, were very great. Sometimes these Elections were boisterous enough. The Office of Installation was grand. All were to do him obeisance as he passed. His Chaplains preceded him with lanterns. They were Physicians, Illuminators, and, generally, men of natural gifts. The Abbot was usually styled the Lord Abbot, or “By Divine Permission,” or “By the Grace of God, Abbot,” &-c. Besides the Parliamentary honours to which certain Abbots were entitled, they were Sponsors to the children of the Blood-Royal. They made Knights, at one time; they conferred the lesser Orders; they Consecrated Churches and Cemeteries. They rode with hawks on their fists; and bells were rung when they came to visit any of their Churches. The state which the Abbots maintained during the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, in their respective Abbeys, was very great, and was more like Regal magnificence than the daily life of those who had professed themselves dead to the world. Their secular tenures introduced them into a variety of incongruous offices, such as going to war, discharging the duties of itinerant Justices, &c. The public officiating Dress of an Abbot consisted of the Episcopal Ornaments. The great duty of an Abbot was to set an example of obedience to the Rule to which he belonged. He was bound to attend Divine Service daily and nightly; to look after the Buildings; to see that due order was kept; and that the doors were locked and the keys brought to him every night.
Abbeys, of course, were of varied extent and arrangement, according to their wealth and importance. The Mitred Abbeys were the most eminent. Those who presided over them having, like the Bishops, seats in Parliament, by virtue of the Baronies attached to their stations. The larger Abbeys usually consisted of two quadrangular Courts of different dimensions. The north side of the principal quadrangle was the usual site of the Abbey Church; and on the other sides were the Refectory, Almonry, Chapter House, Dormitory, Locutory or Parlour, Infirmary, Library, Scriptorium, Guest Hall or Hospitium, Kitchen, and other domestic Offices. The Abbot’s House or Lodging commonly formed one or more sides of the smaller quadrangle, and consisted of a complete Mansion, in the style of a large Manor House, containing a Hall, Kitchen, and frequently a Chapel. Chapels are distinguished from Churches, in having Altars, but no Baptisteries or Fonts, and being generally subordinate to the former.
The Prior’s Stall was at the entrance of the Choir, opposite the Abbots. Whether he assisted in the government of a Monastery, or whether he presided over a Priory, he was still subordinate to thc Abbot; because all Priories were subject to their respective Abbeys. Consequently, the Prior was a sort of Vicegerent of the Abbot, being invested with his authority in his absence, and acknowledging the headship of the Abbot whenever he chose to visit the Priory. Those Priors who resided in a Monastery with a presiding Abbot, had the next rank to him in the Choir, Chapter, and Refectory; and were, moreover, provided with an apartment for themselves, cal led the Prior’s Lodgings; and were furnished with horses and servants. In the absence of the Abbot, the Prior was to maintain the discipline of the Abbey. He could imprison delinquents, but he could not expel them from the Society.
The office of Sub-Prior in Abbeys was much the same as that of the Prior in his absence; the Sub-Prior being, in fact, an Assistant to him, and his Representative whenever he was not present. The Sub-Prior’s Chamber was over the Dormitory door, that he might hear if any stirred or went out. Dean was the old appellation of Prior: to every ten Monks there was a Prior.
PRECENTOR, OR CHANTER.
This office was next in rank to that of Abbot and Prior, and could only be filled by a Monk who had been educated in the Monastery from a child. It was his duty to correct all mistakes in the Choral Service, which was entirely at his disposal; to distribute the Robes at Festivals; and to write out the Tables of Divine Service for the use of the Monks, as the Choral Service formed a principal part of the Divine Offices. His place was in the middle of the Choir, and on the right side, and he usually commenced the Chant. His office, however, extended to other matters besides the direction and lead of the Choral Service. In the Processions in the Monastery, nothing could be done without the Precentor. On the principal Anniversaries, he gave directions to the Cellarer three days before they were generally made known. At the decease of a Monk, his name was registered by this Officer in the Obituary. The Archives were under his care; and, in short, he was the Head Librarian. During the Service, the Precentor held in his hand a kind of musical instrument, made of bone, called a Tabula.
It is said this instrument was held in the hand, to represent literally the expression of the Psalmist, ‘‘Praise Him with the Psaltery and Harp. (Psalm cl. 3.) It is also said that the Precentor held in his hand a Silver Staff during the Service, in imitation of the Staff held by the Israelites, who travelled to their own country, eating the Paschal Lamb.
This Officer was entrusted with the general management of the domestic affairs of the Abbey or Priory. He had the care of everything relating to the food of the Monks, as well as the vessels of the Cellar, Kitchen, and Refectory. He was required to be careful of the healthy, but especially of the sick. However, he was not allowed to do any thing of greater moment without the advice of the Abbot or Prior. He was to weigh out the bread daily, to collect the spoons after dinner, and in so doing, he was to carry the Abbot`s in his right hand, and the rest in his left! He was also to take care that no one sat down before the Abbot or Prior. He was to wait upon Visitors and Monks returning from journeys. His Chamber was in the Dormitory.
TREASURER OR BURSAR.
His Exchequer was a little stone house, joining upon the Coal-Garth (i.e., coal-yard, fold, or enclosure), pertaining to the great Kitchen, a little distant from the Dean’s Hall stairs. His office was to receive the rents of the estates belonging to the House, and all the other Officers of the house gave in their accounts to him. He discharged all the servants’ wages, and paid all the expenses and sums of money laid out upon any works appertaining to the Abbey, or that the House was charged withal. His Chamber was in the Infirmary, and his meat served from the great Kitchen to his Exchequer.
SACRISTAN OR SECRETARIUS.
It was his duty to uncover the Altar after the Gospel; to carry a lantern before the Priest as he went from the Altar to the Lectern; and alter the Collect, to put the Text upon the Altar, and either to ring the Bell, or cause others to do it. He had the care of all the Sacred Vessels, and washed them at least twice a-week; prepared the host, provided the Wine, and furnished Wafers for the Communicants. he distributed the Candles for the Offices. He took charge of all the Vestments, Bells, and Banners. The wastings of the Chalices, Corporals, Ampullae, &c, were all poured into the Piscina. Every night he was to lock up the keys of every Altar in the Church, in the Almonrv, where every Monk might find his own key, and go to the usual Altar at which he was to say Mass. At the Procession of the Rogations, lest the way should be wet or dirty, the Sacristan was to point out the way to the Precentor, and the Precentor in like manner was to point it out to the Chapter. The Sacristan was to appoint a Sub-Sacristan, who was to keep the keys in his absence; and to see that there was no negligence in the time of ringing the Bell. The Sacristan and Sub-Sacristan were to sleep in the Church,—a privilege which was allowed to no one else, without the order or leave of the Abbot or Prior. The Sacristan was to take care that no nettles or weeds grew in the Churchyard, and that no horse or other animal frequented it. He had from the Granary a daily allowance for his palfrey; and was allowed, as well as his Deputy, a Solatium or Companion. The Sacristan’s Chamber was in the Dormitory or Dorter, and lie had his meat served from the great Kitchen.
This Officer was to find mats in the Choir, Chapter, Cloister, in both Parlours, and upon the Dormitory stairs. He was to find the necessaries for the Maundy; and at the Rogation Processions, two of his servants were to stand at the gate of the House, and give to every Monk a staff made of box wood; and the same servants, with the Porter or his man, were to go before the Procession, that they might remove all impediments, and prevent the people from pressing upon them. He was to purchase annually at Christmas, cloth and shoes for Widows, Orphans, and especially Clerks, and for those whom he thought to stand most in need. He was not allowed to collect any thing at the tables; but if any thing were handed to him, he might take it, and devote it to Alms. After dinner, when the Monks retired from the Refectory, he was permitted to go round the tables, and to devote to Alms the drink which remained.
COOK OR KITCHENER
As his name denotes, this official presided over the culinary department of the Monastery. He had assistants, some of whom cooked for the Monks, and others for the rest of the Household. He sat at meals on the Prior’s left hand, and gave the license to the Reader, as well as that of Dining and Drinking. Another part of his office was to visit the sick every morning, to see what they wanted, and to supply those wants. This office was never conferred on any but such as had made the art their study. The Cook often got a nickname or contraction, such as Bo, Ank, Cad, &c.
He had the care of the sick, and had a particular part of the Monastery appropriated to him for their reception. It was his duty to administer all their meals, and to sprinkle Holy Water after Compline upon their beds. Before Matins, he went round with a lantern to see if any who were able to rise remained in bed; and he was required to proclaim all negligences to the Chapter. He had two Brethren to assist him in taking care of the sick. When a Monk was at the point of death, he had warm water ready for the corpse. He had the charge of the Bier. The Abbot, with the consent of the Chapter, was to appoint such a person Infirmarer as might be able, in ease of sudden accident, to receive the Confession of the sick.
This office was generally committed to men of mature age and unblameable life, He only entered the Kitchen, Refectory, Infirmary, and Residence of the Superior, to deliver a message when visitors came. He always slept at the Gate, and had a horse, that, as often as the Cellarer and Superior wished, he might attend their summons, and ride with them. He was allowed the service of a boy, who took the key, after Curfew, to the Cellarer’s bed, and fetched it again in the morning. In some accounts, we find that, as soon as the Bell rang for Compline, the Porter locked the gates, and carried the keys to the Abbot.
He was to take care that the cups and vessels which were used in the Refectory were kept clean, and that the tables were wiped daily, He was required, out of his revenues, to provide cups, pots, tablecloths, mats, basins, double cloths, candlesticks, towels, and salt-cellars. He was to find rushes to lay on the floor of the Refectory five times in a year. When bread was placed before any of the Monks at table, he was to distribute the bread and cheese with his own hands. If the Abbot dined in the Refectory, he was required to cause basins, water, and a towel to be placed in the Lavatory before dinner; and in the same manner in the Refectory after dinner. The Refectioner received the wines from the Abbot’s cellar as often as it was to be distributed in the Convent, and he was required to measure it, if necessary.
By the Decrees of Lanfranc, he was to find everything necessary for the clothes, bedding, cleanliness, and shaving of the Monks. He was to find the glass for making and mending the Dormitory windows; shoeing for the horses; gowns, garters, and spurs for the Monks’ travelling; and, once a year, to have the Dormitory swept, and the straw of the beds changed. Three times in the year, viz., at Easter, Christmas, and the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he was required to provide baths for the refreshment of Monks’ bodies. At the Maundy on Holy Thursday, he was, with the assistance of the Almoner and Porter, to introduce the poor; and of these, the first were the necessitous parents of the Monks, and afterwards the Clerks and Pilgrims, upon each of which he bestowed threepence. Upon the loss of a knife or comb, he was to find new ones; he was to provide the Novices with razors. He had the use of a Tailor. The Monks were to go to the baths when he saw it necessary. He slept in the Dorter.
He received strangers and the wayfaring poor, and provided for their entertainment in a room appropriated for them, called the hospice or Guest Chamber. He had annually the best of the old shoes for the visitors who wanted slippers. If strange Clerks wished to dine in the Refectory, he was to notify it to the Abbot or Prior, and, upon consent, to instruct them how to do. He was to conduct a strange Monk through the Cloister into the Church to pray.
That is, Weekly Officers, was a name given to any of the Monks in waiting at table, or in other services, which they performed by weekly turns. Such were the Readers, who stood at a Desk or Lectern in the Refectory, and read while the others were eating.