At our November session we took a look at what it was like to be a monk in the medieval period. There are a number of former monastic sites in the National Park (the ruins Llanthony Abbey, Brecon Cathedral which started life as a priory, the medieval friary in Llanfaes, which is now Christ College) and surrounding area (Tintern Abbey, Strata Florida Abbey), many of which we had visited with our families or schools.
After a quick discussion and brainstorming session, we realised that we all knew a lot more about monks that we first realised – from monasteries to habits, prayers to medical care, hospitality to teaching. We were surprised to find out that the first ever monastery in the UK was in Wales, and that monks didn’t wear sandals but they did sometimes wear slippers(!); sandal wearing monks are a fabrication of Hollywood! We learned about the different orders of monks, the vows that monks had to take and what this meant in practice. We thought about what life as a monk would involve and how we would spend our time, what we would be able to eat and turned our hand to some monastic activities. Most of us decided that the life of a medieval monk wasn’t for us, although one or two did think that life as a medieval monk might appeal to them.
Turning our hand to life of a monastic scribe, and having a go at producing our own illuminated letters.
We learned about the inevitably bodily functions and sanitation in a monastery with the help of a fully working model of a monastic toilet – a reredorter – built out of lego.