EBK Activity Sheets


Abbeys & Priories: All about them
  • Monasteries were places where groups of men or women could live together and worship God. The men were called monks and the women were called nuns.
  • A monastery is sometimes called an 'abbey' or a 'priory'. Monasteries for women are also sometimes called 'nunneries' or 'convents'.
  • Monasteries always had lots of small buildings for the monks or nuns to live in. These are called 'cells'. British ones were usually round. Saxon ones were rectangular. There would also be a kitchen and workshops. They could be built of wood or stone.
  • Most important was the rectangular church (British or Saxon) to worship in. Saxon monasteries usually had more than one church in a line (see picture of the Monastery at Jarrow).
  • A wall around the outside formed an enclosure. Monastery buildings within an enclosure are called the 'enclave'.
  • The first monastery in Britain was set up in AD 429, by St. Cadfan on the Island of Bardsey in North Wales. The first Saxon monastery was set up by St. Augustine in Canterbury in Kent.
  • Double monasteries were also popular. Here, men and women lived separately in two enclaves, but worshipped in the same church.
  • An abbess was always in charge of a double monastery.
  • There was a famous British double monastery at Gwytherin (in North Wales), set up by St. Winifred. There was a famous Saxon one at Whitby (in Yorkshire), run by St. Hilda.
  • In the 10th century, St. Aethelwold reformed all the Saxon monasteries. he told them how they should set out their buildings and what they should believe. 
  • Monasteries were very popular in medieval times but, later, King Henry VIII destroyed them all. A few were set up again in Victorian times.
  • Activity Sheet available.


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