Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Architectural model showing towers and transept of the 9th-century Benedictine Monastery at Saint-Gallen, Switzerland.

The Carolingians translated the framework for monastic life envisioned by St. Benedict into architectural form in the ninth century. With the same view toward uniformity that guided the reform of imperial administration, the development of a more legible script for copying the Bible, and the planning of architectural monuments, Charlemagne commanded all monasteries in his realm to adopt the Benedictine Rule and convened assemblies in Aachen in 816-817 to consider policies that directly affected the layout of the proposed structures. At about the same time, a large plan, drawn on five sheets of parchment and measuring about 44 by 30 inches, was sent to the abbot of Saint-Gall, apparently portraying an ideal scheme of what buildings a monastery should contain and how to arrange them. A model built from the plan shows the monastery's appearance. The multiplex, dominated by the large "double-ended" church, is organized in a series of concentric zones like an onion. Animal pens, industrial buildings employing secular artisans, guest quarters, and the school formed an outer ring. At the heart of the plan lay the cloister, the focus of monastic life. With a fountain at its center, the square courtyard was surrounded by covered and arcaded walkways that provided sheltered circulation between the primary spaces of monastic activity: church, dormitory, refectory (dining hall), cellar, and scriptorium (book production center). Chapter rooms, for general meetings, became standard features in Cistercian abbeys and were always located in the east gallery of the cloister under the dormitory. They were the most important structure of a monastery, after the church, and served as places where the monks assembled after morning Mass to receive spiritual advice or discipline from the abbot, read chapters of the Rule of St. Benedict, and discuss the internal affairs of the community. Because the new orders of the Franciscan and Dominican friars established themselves in cities during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and were not cloistered, they did not need the large cellars, barns, animal pens, and industrial buildings required by monks living in remote rural areas. Further, each Franciscan or Dominican friar lived in his own small cell in the convent-as the houses of friars were called- rather than together in a dormitory. Nevertheless, despite these additions and modifications, the scheme created in the ninth century and represented by the Saint-Gall plan remained the essential template for the cloister for the rest of the Middle Ages.

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