The High Altar
Topped by the magnificent East Window, once resplendent with stained glass, the original High Altar of the Priory stood, raised on a step spanning the entire width of the building. Now within the ruined part of the Priory, the altar is no longer in position, but the step remains, covered in grass and providing one of the settings for the Priory's biennial pageants. It was here that the canons would have celebrated Mass, concealed from the eyes of the laity by a large rood screen which stood where the East Wall of the Priory Church was built following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, in order to preserve 'the mystery' of the communion.
Even in the ruins, this is an area of great beauty and serenity. Life at the Priory revolved around the acts of worship which took place thoughout the day, starting between midnight and 2 am and finishing at dusk. Within the stalls on each side of the Choir, the canons took their places to sing the various prayers, psalms and passages from the Bible, all, of course, in Latin.
The day was divided into twelve monastic "hours" between dawn and dusk, which varied in length according to the season of the year. There were seven "hours" of prayer and in addition there were personal prayers and various Masses. Religious houses were often paid handsomely, sometimes in land, to say Masses for the souls of the dead.
The following was the order of a priory day in summer as recorded in the Observances of Barnwell Priory:
Midnight - Matins and Lauds
Sleep in the dorter (dormitory)
Daybreak - Prime, followed by Morning Mass, private Masses and confessions
Chapter Meeting in the Chapter House
About 8 am - Terce followed by High Mass
About 11.30 am - Sext
Noon - Dinner in the Refectory
About 2.30 pm - None
Wash and drink, followed by work
Sunset - Vespers or Evensong followed by Supper
About 8 pm - Compline
Retire to the dorter to rest
Protruding from either side of the main body of the building are the North and South Transepts. The construction of these gave the building the shape of a cross, thus indicating that it was under God's protection. Within the transepts, against the north and south walls were altars, thus enabling each transept to be used as a private chapel for the canons' private masses. As late as 1920, remains of the altars were still visible in the transepts. The transepts are slightly offset from the main line of the building, and are not quite at right-angles to the building.
The Nave, was mostly built in 1240. This was used for services for the lay people of the village, known at that time as Bolton-in-Wharfedale. When the Priory was closed in 1539, a church was still required to provide for the people of the area. In all probability, thanks to the intervention of the Archbishop of York, the Nave was permitted to be retained to provide a church. Between 1539 and 1542 a priest was installed at the Priory by the Archbishop. Then, in 1542, the majority of the Priory estates were sold to Henry Clifford, First Earl of Cumberland, who continued a patronage of the Priory dating back to its earliest days. The Earl then installed a priest as chaplain of the Priory Church. Thus the Nave has been used continuously for worship for over 750 years, and contains many features arising from the continuous care which has been lavished on it during that time. From the Pre-Reformation sealed Stone Altar to the magnificent Pugin windows in the South Wall, the Nave contains many signposts to its devout and holy past.
The West Tower
In 1520, work began on the construction of a new tower to the west of the nave. Conceived by the Prior, Richard Moone, the tower was to be a great perpindular construction rivalling those at Furness and Fountains Abbeys. It is suggested that the decision to build the tower was taken after an earthquake rocked Yorkshire in 1485 and caused considerable damage to the towers of other religious houses, giving rise to concern that another earthquake might fell the main tower of the Priory, potentially causing appalling damage to the body of the church. Work came to an abrupt halt, however, in 1539 when the Prior closed, leaving the tower at one third of its original design height. At this point, the tower was not properly joined to the main body of the building, and was unroofed and unglazed. In 1984, a laminated pine roof, with a central boss in the shape of a white Yorkshire rose, was lowered onto the walls, and the windows and floor were completed, thus converting a stump of masonry into a noble porch with superb acoustic qualities.
The Chapter House
Each day, following the service of Prime, at about 8.30 am, the canons would assemble in the Chapter House to consider any items of business affecting the community of the Priory. These might be matters as simple as to consider disciplining a member of the Priory who had offended against the rules to dealing with spritual or commercial matters. The Chapter House was an octagonal building, seating up to 28 persons, and every canon had the right to be heard at Chapter meetings. The other crucially important purpose of the Chapter House was to provide a place for the canons to fulfill their duty to read each day one chapter of the Rule of St. Augustine. The Rule was divided into 8 chapters, and set out the basic tenets of the Common Life with the eighth chapter dealing with the observance of the other 7. The chapters were displayed, one on each wall, with the eighth chapter over the doorway, so that all who left could read it each day.
A summary of the Rule is:
Chapter 1: Purpose and Basis of Common Life
Chapter 2: Prayer
Chapter 3: Moderation and Self Denial
Chapter 4: Safeguarding Chastity,and Fraternal Correction
Chapter 5: The Care of Community Goods and Treatment of the Sick
Chapter 6: Asking Pardon and Forgiving Offenses
Chapter 7: Governance and Obedience
Chapter 8: Observance of the Rule
Officers of the Priory
There were various persons placed in authority within the Priory to oversee its daily running:
The Prior - who was the spritual head of the house, and also led the team responsible for the running of the Estate.
The Cellarer - who was the general manager of the estate. His duties were similar to those of a modern university Bursar. One of the Bolton Priory Cellarer's continuing preoccupations was that the estate never succeeded in becoming self-sufficient in corn, leading to the need to purchase and transport corn from some distance away.
The Sub-Prior - who deputised for the Prior in his absence. His normal duties covered spiritual matters and discipline.
The Sacrist - who had the special duty of care of the church, including its linen, ornaments and sacred vessels. This office was considered so important that it had a separate fund to maintain it, supported by its own flock of animals, which in 1321/2 comprised 296 sheep. At some priories, the sacrist and sub-sacrist took their duties so seriously that they both ate and slept in the Church.
The Refectorer - who also had his own fund and stock of animals. It was his responsibility to ensure that adequate food was available to feed both the occupants of the Priory and workers on any farms managed directly by the canons. Surpluses were sold to raise funds for the Priory.
The Granarer - given that grain was the most important foodstuff within the Priory's life, this office was considered to be one of great responsibility.
The Receiver - was always a canon, and had responsibility for maintain the accounts of the Priory. These were audited by Archbishop on his Visitations.
The Infirmarer - had responsibility for caring for the sick within the Priory.The Dormitory
The Dorter - or Dormitory provided the communal sleeping accommodation for the canons. The dormitory was unheated. The canons' bedding comprised straw-filled mattresses with sheepskins to act as blankets. Compared with the size of the rest of the Priory, the sleeping accommodation appears very cramped, until one realises that there were never more than 19 canons living at the Priory. There does not appear to be any separate infirmary acommodation, so it is likely that medical treatment would have been afforded within the main dormitory when this was required. A night staircase ran directly from the dorter to the body of the Church, so that the canons had an easy means of descending for the Matins at 2.00 am. Clothing in these unheated buildings, clothing needed to be warm. The canons wore a black cassock lined with sheepskin, over which was a white rochet (or surplice), usually with tight sleeves. The outer vestment was a black cloak with a hood hanging down over the shoulders, which was in turn lined with sheepskin in winter. They also wore an amese - a garment worn over the head and around the shoulders, extending down to the waist. They also wore breeches, woollen socks and leather boots.
The Rere-Dorter is another term for Latrine. In short, this was the canons' toilet and washing block. Built over a source of running water, which then drained down into the River Wharfe, and afforded relatively sophisticated facilities, although it should be borne in mind that the only water for washing was probably cold - winter and summer !
The Prior's Lodging
Only the Prior enjoyed private lodgings. These were originally located above the Cellarium, but were later moved to the end of the Dorter during the 14th Century.
All meals were taken in the Refectory. The mainstay of the canons' diet was bread, pottage and ale, supplemented by meat, fish and dairy products. It was usual in monastic establishments to allocate a kilogram of bread and approximately 5 litres of ale to each man per day. Wheat was a luxury item, and most bread was made from a combination known as mixtura. The amount of meat consumed within the precincts was about as much as is eaten today, and it will be appreciated that the nature of the manual work undertaken at the Priory meant a bettrer diet than that consumed in more sedentary religious houses. A considerable amount of fish was eaten at the Priory - mainly herring bought from the East Coast as opposed to fish caught in the Wharfe. Priory records show that the purchase of fish accounted for two-thirds of the kitchen's cash expenditure. Historical analysis of diet shows that for every 50 kilograms of grain consumed, there was approximately 8 kilos of dairy produce. Annual purchases of luxury items at St. Botolph's Fair included spices, raisins, almonds, figs and wine. Between 2,000 and 3,000 litres of wine were consumed each year at the Priory, mainly reserved for guests and for feast days. Almost a third of all the oats gathered from all sources by the Priory went into the making of ale. Given that the only other drink available was water, the considerable consumption of ale is perhaps understandable. This diet shows a lack of fruit and vegetables, and it has been suggested that Vitamin C deficiency was commonplace in the Middle Ages.
The Warming Room
Access to heating was a restricted luxury for the inhabitants of the Priory. Fires were not normally provided within the rooms of the Priory, as the canons were expected to live a life of frugality. Exceptions were made for the sick and for guests. Obviously, there would be a fire within the kitchen in order to heat food and to warm water for brewing the weak beer which was drunk at the Priory. In the winter, this would have made kitchen duties rather popular - although in the heat of the summer, the opposite might have been expected to be the case.
One concession was made to the rigours of life within the Priory - the Warming Room. To this room, each member of the Priory could retire for 20 minutes each day to take the chill from their bones. Aside from this small luxury, the canons were dependent on their woollen robes for warmth - it is for this reason that clothing was so heavy. Canons worked, worshipped, ate and slept in their clothes. Given that the Rule of Augustine describes bathing as something to be done only on medical advice, and counsels against too great a desire for clean clothing, one can imagine that the atmosphere within the Priory could at times be quite 'fragrant'. Incense, burned in places of worship, was used not only to send prayers to heaven in its smoke, but also mask the less agreeable odours of the time !
The job of the Cellarer was one of the most important within the Priory. His was the responsibility for the purchase, storage and allocation of supplies for both the canons and the lay employees working on the farms and the estate. In some priories, the Cellarer was also responsible for brewing the ale drunk there. There were many threats to the food supply, including greed of bretheren and rodents. Were the food supply to run short, it might be difficult to procure more without delay, and this would in turn affect the ability of the Priory to function properly. Good management was therefore essential, as was security. The Observances of Barnwell Priory record an injunction to the Cellarer and his assistant, the Sub-Cellarer that:
"when he goes to dinner or to sleep, he is to take the keys of the cellar with him"
The construction of the Cloister began before 1200. A small open area enclosed by the walls of surrounding buildings, and skirted by a covered walkway, the Cloister was used by the canons for reading and meditation between the frequent summons of the bell calling them into prayer. Canons who had no other duties were required to spend their time in the Cloister in study and contemplation. A holy water stoup was set into the wall near the entrance to the Church, to permit canons to make the sign of the cross on his forehead, lips and heart before entering to show his desire for a pure mind, tongue and heart in his worship of God. The central area of the Cloister provided a sheltered space to grow herbs and some vegetables in even the harshest winter months. Being South-facing, the Cloister provided a good source of light, and the canons used this area for both reading and copying of manuscripts. To assist with this, small work-desks - carrels - were set around the Cloister.