Abbey Officials

Because of the great amount of time taken up by prayer and readings, certain monks were allocated specialist tasks that allowed them relief from all the offices, and made sure that the work, necessary to keep the community running, was done. Here’s a list of the common offices and their functions. This would of course vary with the monastic order, location and time period, but most of these are fairly standard.

Prior or Provost – Abbot’s second in command. Would run the abbey when the Abbot was away. The Abbot might often away on business, or visiting daughter cells.

Might be more than one prior – e.g. at Cluny one to manage Cluny itself and one to manage the whole family of houses.

Circatores – were in effect spies who, under the prior’s command, went around the abbey ensuring that each monk was doing his allotted duty.

Deans – in the case of Cluny they administered the Abbey’s manors, but literally supposed to oversee 10 other monks.

Precentor – in charge of the liturgy, and also the book cupboard or library.

Chamberlain – in charge of clothing, washing and shaving the monks – cloth bought already woven and dyed and was tailored at the abbey, washing consisted of a bath twice a year before Easter and Christmas, shaving once a week. This might have been more regular in later years as the vanity of monks increased perhaps. Shaving took place in the cloister in two rows – one monk shaving his opposite number. The razors were locked away when not in use.

Cellarer – largest team of assistants: subcellarer, granarer who saw to the delivery and storage of food and baking of bread, a keeper of wine, gardener, keeper of the fishponds, refectorer who organized the kitchen and meals, and other officials to organize the guesthouse and stables.

Almoner – organized poor relief – tithes collected from parishes under its jurisdiction intended for this purpose.

Sacrist – in charge of church and its ornaments. Had responsibility for a large source of income: donations from pilgrims and donors, and also a great responsibility for when the church needed rebuilding or maintenance.

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