Monastery Gardens and Cloisters
|A monastic garden was used by
many, and for multiple purposes. Gardening was especially important in
the monasteries for supplying their livelihood.
Gardens were mainly in monasteries and manors, but were also developed by peasants. These were used as kitchen gardens, medicine and herbal gardens, and even orchards and cemetery gardens. Each type of garden had its own purpose and meaning, including satisfying medicinal, food, and spiritual needs. Gardening was important for medicinal use. Monks used these medicinal herbs on themselves and on the local community.
Saint Augustine assembled his company about him: “I assembled, in a garden that Valerius had given me, certain brethren of like intentions with my own, who possessed nothing, even as I possessed nothing, and who followed after me.”
Augustine built his church (with its cloister site corresponding to museum, exedra, and portico in the old philosopher’s garden); and from the account given, it is obvious that in this particular instance the habit of meeting and living together in a garden preceded the foundation of church and monastery.
The buildings of a medieval monastery were grouped round a peristyle quite as invariably in the West, where the monks had the strict discipline of a life in common, as in the East, where they were allowed more personal freedom; for even the isolated cells in an Oriental cloister were mostly grouped round a central court.
St Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine monastic order, inspired the cloister life of the sixth century in Western Europe. He at once ordered that “ all the necessaries “ for the support of monks should be supplied within the walls, and among these “necessaries”, water and gardens stood in the first rank: of course these gardens were for herbs and vegetables. The Benedictines, whose rule enjoined work in the garden, were the men who handed down the practice of horticulture right through the Middle Ages. Those Orders, which were not influenced by the Benedictine Rule, and forbade the monks to do farm work, still seem to have thought a garden indispensable.
The Spaniard Isidorus, in his Rule, makes a special point of having a garden within the cloister, attached to the wall and entered by the back door, so that the monks should be able to work there and not have occasion to go outside.
There was a certain tradition in the old Roman provinces about the cultivation of the choicer kinds of fruit. It is well worth noting that in Norway, even to this day, none but the finest and choicest fruit trees are found on the site of an old monastery.
The Plan of Saint Gall is a medieval architectural drawing of a monastic compound dating from 820–830 AD. It depicts an entire Benedictine monastic compound, including churches, houses, stables, kitchens, workshops, brewery, infirmary, and a special house for bloodletting. According to calculations based on the manuscript's tituli the complex was meant to house about 110 monks, 115 lay visitors, and 150 craftmen and agricultural workers. The Plan was never actually built. The planned church was intended to keep the relics of Saint Gall.
The Plan of Saint Gall
Buildings of the Abbey of Saint Gall, according to the historical plan from the early 9th century - Was apparently never built
The Plan depicts 40 ground plans which include not only the properly monastic buildings (basilica, cloister, abbot's house and cemetery), but also secular buildings for the use of lay workers and visitors.
|The St. Gall
Plan represents a Benedictine monastery, the Benedictine Rule being
applied in the architectural design.
One of the main aspects of the Rule was the ascetic life of the monks who had to dedicate themselves to prayer, meditation and study, and not worry about worldly matters.
For this purpose, the Benedictine
Rule required a monastery which was self-sufficient, and that which
provided for the monks all the necessary facilities, food, and water.
The monk's cloister
The monastic cloister occupies the centre of the Plan. It is placed in the southeast aligning itself both with the sacred east and with the poor – the accommodation for pilgrims and the poor is placed in the east just beneath the cloister – far from the worldly commodities and pleasures of the secular elite.
The structure of the cloister is
It is four-square, and four paths lead from its covered galleries to the center – symbolizing Jerusalem and its four rivers.
The cloister is surrounded by two-storied buildings consisting of the warming room and dormitory to the east, the refectory, vestiary and kitchen to the south, and the cellar and larder to the west.
The monks, as well as the abbot, had a private entrance to the basilica either through their dormitory or through the portico of the cloister.
A general garden was
needed for food supply. Some vegetables could also be used for medicinal
purposes, such as garlic.
Cottage gardens were widely used to grow vegetables, and typically looked wild. However, patches in the cottage garden were found to be grouped by vegetable family, such as the Allium family, consisting of the leek (Allium porrum), onion (Allium cepa), and garlic (Allium sativum).
Orchards and Cemetery Gardens
|Orchards and cemetery
gardens were also tended to in medieval monasteries. Cemetery gardens,
which tended to be very similar to generic orchards, also acted as a
symbol of Heaven and Paradise, and thus provided spiritual meaning.
The vegetation would provide fruit, such as apples or pears, as well
as manual labor for the monks as was required by the Rule of Saint
According to Saint Benedict, idleness is the enemy of the soul, and for a monk, daily life was meant to be spent learning about the Lord and fighting that spiritual battle for the soul. So, monks used manual labor and spiritual reading to keep busy and avoid being idle.
Monks of this time typically would
use astronomy and the stars to determine religious holidays for every
year. They also used astronomy to help in figuring the best time of
year to plant their gardens as well as the best time to harvest.
|An irrigation and
water source was imperative to keeping the garden alive. The most
complicated irrigation system used canals. This required that the
water source be placed at the highest part of the garden so gravity
could aid in the distribution of the water. This was more commonly
used with raised bed gardens, as the channels could run in the
pathways next to the beds.
Kitchen garden ponds also were used in the 14th and 15th centuries, and were meant to offer ornamental value. Manure was placed in the ponds to provide fertilization and water was taken straight from the pond to water the plants.
The tools that were used at the time were similar to those gardeners use today. For instance, shears, rakes, hoes, spades, baskets, and wheel barrows were used and are still important today.
There was even a tool that acted much like a watering can, called a thumb pot. Made from clay, the thumb pot has small holes at the bottom and a thumb hole at the top. The pot was submerged in water, and the thumb hole covered until the water was needed. A perforated pot was also used to hang over plants for constant moisture.
It was not only in the great monasteries that people cared for roses and other flowers. Even a hundred years later, much of the joy in feast and garden appears in the poems of Fortunatus. The French kings worked to lay out lovely gardens. Ultrogote, wife of Childeric I, was famous for the rose garden she had planted by her palace.
In the days of the next centuries, the nobles had to relinquish many of their gentler manners and customs. They were compelled by the unrest and insecurity of those days to strengthen their places, and contract them into a smaller compass. Nothing remained of the fine buildings of Bishop Sidonius’ time except the defensive parts of the walls and the towers of the keep, the stronghold with its dependent farm-buildings about the inner court. The noble owners were obliged to build their castles on almost inaccessible mountain-tops, where there was very little space, or down in the plain, with wide moats; and in neither case was there room to have a garden. Moreover there was not much inclination for peaceful cultivation of the ground, and the men brought in from the chase everything that was wanted in the kitchen.
But the garden was not entirely absent from the
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