Medieval Monasteries

Medieval monastic houses -whether for monks or nuns- needed to be endowed with land. Large abbeys often sent out groups of monks to establish a new monastic foundation rather like a strawberry plant sending out a runner to create lots more strawberry plants.

Groups of monks might be sent to look after land that was some distance from the mother house. These groups of monks, or nuns, were called cells (not to be confused with a small room where an individual monk or nun might sleep).  Eventually if they became large enough they would be described as a priory.  They might even grow to abbey sized proportions. On other occasions groups of monks or nuns might be sent with the specific purpose of building a new abbey if there was a sufficient endowment of land for that purpose. Abbeys might also found priories for nuns.  These nuns would be dependent upon the mother-house for spiritual direction and for the way in which the rules were administered.

Whilst the monks in the cell, priory or even abbey looked to the original mother-house for spiritual guidance they would be referred to as a daughter house.  Some mother houses even had granddaughter houses.  Martin Heale has researched the extent to which daughter houses were expected to send some of their income back to the mother house.  Interestingly, Heale also comments that the mother house did not expect to support the daughter house.  They were required to be financially independent.

Sometimes a monastic house couple begin life belonging to one order but for one reason or another the abbey might be refounded by another order.  Reading Abbey was founded as a Cluniac Abbey but was refounded at a later date as a Benedictine Abbey.

This page is an on-going project.  I intend to list all abbeys in England and Wales that I come across as I continue my reading.

Click on the image for each order to open a new page containing the  a list of monastic houses in alphabetical order with some additional information.

Useful references:



The so-called ‘Black Monks’ because of their habits were the first Roman order of monks to arrive in England.


8 thoughts on “Medieval Monasteries

    • I shall add it to my list of things to do in 2016. Actually, we were saying that it would be good to go to Ireland so maybe I’ll manage photos as well. Mind you, I also have the Isle of Man on my list.

      • Me too! I have a saint in the 4th century (I think) who left IoM to go to Brittany where he founded another branch of my ancestors.

    • I have five or more French, Belgian (Frankish) Abbeys & Priories all founded by the illustrious ancestors. They did of course earn themselves Sainthoods for their efforts.

    • That would be lovely – I think perhaps a guest post – though I have to work out how to do that. It’s lovely to hear from you. You’ve been much more productive over the festive period than me on the reading front I think.

  1. Julia, I am writing a historical romance set in medieval times. The main characters are prevented from ever marrying in the beginning of the story, because she is ‘betrothed’ to the hero’s brother. By the end of the story they could be allowed to marry because the brother is a knight and killed in a battle. Is this feasible? They were never married, never shared the same bed, and are not ‘related’. They only met a couple of times when he was not gallivanting around tournaments or fighting for his liege Lord.
    I can’t find anything that answers my query directly, and thought you might know the answer? I’ve read the info here but it doesn’t fit my question.

    • I think they’d still need a papal dispensation as the prior betrothal would relate them to a degree that prohibited marriage (John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford needed a papal dissension because Gaunt was the godparent of the eldest Swynford child but no relation)- which isn’t as complicated as it sounds as the ecclesiastical courts dealt with that sort of entanglement on a fairly regular basis as it was also usual for one of the betrothed to pop their clogs and for the marriage uniting two families to continue with a brother or sister of whoever had died. Try looking up ecclesiastical court + dispensation to marry. It’s a good question which I shall come back to! Hope that helps a bit.

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