The Making of The Eldridge Conspiracy: Abbeys in the Middle Ages

04-kaye-nov2016-newsletterFor those of you eagerly awaiting the exciting conclusion to the Sir Kaye the Boy Knight series, The Eldridge Conspiracy (K4) will not disappoint! As the title suggests, our heroes will be uncovering a major conspiracy with roots that began in book one, The Knighting of Sir Kaye. Elements of this conspiracy are taken from actual historical events.

So what can we expect to see in book four, The Eldridge Conspiracy? No spoilers here, but what I can says is there will be plenty of action, mystery, and suspense and readers will be introduced to new historical elements of medieval life, including abbeys, ships of the era, and jousting. The next few blogs feature some really cool medieval research that supports the story. For our first research blog, I thought I’d begin with abbeys, since an abbey plays a very important role in the story.

What is an abbey? In the Middle Ages, an abbey was a group of buildings near a church that housed the monastics (the buildings were also sometimes called a convent, friary, nunnery, monastery, or priory). Monastics, or people who adopted the monastic way of life, are individuals who have chosen to renounce all worldly pursuits and devote themselves strictly to spiritual works. Typically, we hear them called monks or nuns. Commonly, abbeys were either inhabited only by females and run by an abbess, or they were strictly male and run by an abbot. Rarely, there were double monasteries, which housed men and women, and those were led by an abbess as well.

Abbey of San Galgano, Tuscany, Italy

Life at the Abbey:

Life at the abbey was very simple. Days consisted of worship services, reading the Bible, and hard labor. There was little staff; the monks or nuns were the staff, so everyone had to do their part to maintain the abbey. Days were spent farming and raising all of the supplies (farm animals, vegetables, grains) needed to feed everyone who lived there, or cooking, cleaning, sewing necessary garments and linen, and doing laundry chores. The first worship service of the day usually began around 2 a.m., and the last service would conclude the day at sunset.

Monastics would also spend time during the day or night reading the Bible, praying, singing or chanting, and meditating for hours.

There are modern-day monasteries, where the pattern of life is basically similar to life in an abbey during the Medieval era. In modern-day monasteries, monks do all of their own farming and cleaning and live very basic lives, so they can be sure to keep their priorities on spiritual things. Even their food choices are simplified in order to prevent greed or gluttony; they choose to eat bland things that work to sustain them and keep them healthy, rather than rich or highly spiced foods that many of us would prefer.

Abbey on a medieval stained glass window panel from the abbey of Mariawald in Germany.

Uses for an Abbey:

Abbeys filled many needs in their community, serving as farms, inns, hospitals, schools, and libraries. Abbeys would give travelers and pilgrims a place to stay for the night, and monks and nuns would never turn away a sick person who came to their door seeking help. Most abbeys had a skilled herbalist among its residents who could minister to the needs of the sick or injured. Additionally, the monasteries would provide education for young boys who wished to become priests. Some monastics spent time copying manuscripts of important books so that they could be preserved, and they kept records of important events that happened in their communities. Like Reggie, the residents of Abbeys were often chroniclers.

Conspiracies in Abbeys:

Well for collecting rainwater in the Pomposa Abbey in Italy.

Please don’t interpret any of this information as my personal opinion, rather these are matters of history that follow. Nearing the end of the Middle Ages, there was a problem with serious corruption in the church. All members of the clergy were supposed to be well-educated; however, many priests and leaders were illiterate. There were some who hardly knew how to perform the religious services. Many took advantage of their positions and used them to live materialistic and luxurious lives. They convinced pilgrims that the holy relics at their abbeys had the power to cleanse them of their sins, and then charged the pilgrims to see the relics. To make it worse, some of these “relics,” which were said to be things like pieces of Jesus’ cross, Moses’ burning bush, or straw from Jesus’ manger, were nothing but things these monks and priests had found on the ground.

These corrupt leaders’ most profitable form of income was selling indulgences. An indulgence was a piece of paper signed by the Pope that was a “get out of jail free card” of sorts. A person could cash in an indulgence to be forgiven for one sin. Some clergy even taught that through indulgences, salvation could be attained—if one bought enough indulgences.

Our next K4 research blog will give you a little history about jousting in the Middle Ages.

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The cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral.

Supplementary Information:

Rooms in the Abbey:
The following rooms might be included in a plan of a Medieval monastery. The descriptions of the rooms are as follows:

  • Cellarium—store-house of a monastery
  • Chapter-house—a room in which monks met daily, to discuss business and to hear a chapter of the monastic rule
  • Cloister—a covered walkway in a monastery often situated around an quadrangle. A cloister often comprised of a plain wall or colonnade on the outer side and a series of windows on the inner side.
  • Dorter—a monastic dormitory. Sometimes the monks slept in isolated rooms called cells.
  • Frater—another term for a refectory (dining room)
  • Garderobe—a lavatory in a medieval building
  • Granary—a storehouse for threshed grain
  • Infirmary—the part of a monastery which housed monks who were too sick or old to take part in the normal monastic life
  • Kitchen—where food was prepared and cooked
  • Lavatorium—a room which contained a trough with running water where monks washed their hands before meals
  • Misericord—the part of a monastery where monks were disciplined
  • Night Stair—a staircase used by the monks to enter a church directly from their dormitory in order to attend late night and early morning services
  • Refectory—the dining hall of a monastery
  • Sacristy—a small building, usually attached to the chancel in which vestments and sacred vessels were kept
  • Scriptorium—the room in a monastery used by clerics or scribes copying manuscripts
  • Warming-house—the only room in a monastery, apart from the infirmary and kitchen, where a fire was allowed. Also called a calefactory.

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Cloisters in Moissac, France