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Unesco World Heritage Site

Maulbronn Monastery

Maulbronn Monastery, refectories, fountain house and kitchen along the monastery's cloister. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Günther Bayerl
MODEST, SILENT AND DEVOUT

MEALS AT THE MONASTERY

Cistercian mealtimes were strictly regulated. When, what and how to eat was determined in chapters 35 to 41 of the Benedictine rules. But some things were open to interpretation: Fish was considered river fruit and beavers—because of their tail fin—were considered aquatic animals.

St. Benedict delivering his rules, French miniature from the Regula Benedicti manuscript, Abbey of Saint-Gilles, 1129. Image: Wikipedia, public

St. Benedict delivering his rules.

STRICTLY REGULATED: MEALTIMES

The Cistercian order followed the rules put forth by St. Benedict, which clearly stipulated mealtimes. In the busy summer months, there were two meals per day, one at midday and one in the evening. Exceptions included Wednesdays and Fridays, traditional fasting days, on which only one meal was eaten. In the winter there was also only one meal. During Lent, the monks only ate one evening meal. This evening meal was always scheduled at a time of day that would not require the tables to be lit by lamplight.

A cellarer tasting his wine. Illumination in a manuscript from the late 13th century. Image: Wikipedia, public

A monk sampling wine.

WHAT THE MONKS ATE

Cistercian meals contained very little meat and no fat. Simple vegetable dishes, porridge and legumes were served. Meat from four-legged animals was exclusively reserved for the sick. Only fish and poultry were allowed. Additionally, each monk received one pound of dark rye bread and a half "Schoppen" (1/2 pint) of wine mixed with water. In addition to the bread, fruit was also included almost daily in their meal plan. The fruit was largely from their own monastery gardens. 

Fountain house at Maulbronn Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Günther Bayerl

Washing hands in the fountain house.

SHARED MEALS IN THE REFECTORY

After washing up in the fountain house, located directly across from the refectory, meals were eaten together. Monks sat next to each other at a long table. Speaking was prohibited. They communicated with hand signals. Those who broke the rules could be punished. During the meal, one monk would read from a pulpit along the east wall of the monks' refectory. Texts included the bible or other theological writings. From this position, he was visible to everyone. After eating, the monks would proceed to the church for a prayer of thanks.

Monks' refectory. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Günther Bayerl

The monks' refectory: to the left, along the west wall, the former kitchen hatches. To the right, toward the back, the reading pulpit.

SERVING AS REFECTORY READER

The task of being refectory reader began on a Sunday and continued for the rest of the week. Before beginning his service, the monk would be blessed by his brothers, to keep him free of pride. Because of the holy communion, the refectory reader would receive some diluted wine before beginning his reading. He did not eat until after the meal and then only in the kitchen, with others who had weekly duties elsewhere. According to Benedictine rules, the monks did not read in turn, but rather only if they had something constructive to offer the listeners.