The Frater    (Refectory, Fraterhouse, Fratry)         

Shared meals in a monastery were as ritualistic as all other parts of the religious life.  In monasteries, such as Beaulieu, where there lived Lay Brothers as well as Ordained Monks, the ritual of mealtime was kept separately, and each group had their own washing sink and dining hall, though both were served by the same kitchen.

Only one meal was served per day, and for that meal the monks processed from the church through the cloister to the refectory, underwent washing at the lavatory sinks, washing their hands, faces, and knives, and then, when the Kitchener (and cook) announced the meal was ready, they processed into the frater.  They sang psalms before and after taking their meal, which was always served with a loaf of bread, this signifying the sharing of bread among Christians.  No talking was permitted, every monk instead listened to the Reader who read a scripture from the pulpit in the refectory.  Sometimes talking was allowed, but then only very quietly as necessary between the prior or abbot and his guests.

Any food left uneaten at the end of the meal was taken into a basket and given to the poor.  In addition, one extra meal was always prepared and one poor man chosen to come into the refectory to receive it. 


From English Monastic Life, by F.A. Gasquet:

The refectory, sometimes called the fratry or frater-house, was the common hall for all conventual meals.  Its situation in the plan for a monastic establishment was almost always as far removed from the church as possible, that is, it was on the opposite side of the cloister quadrangle and, according to the usual plan, in the southern walk of the cloister.  The reason for this arrangement is obvious.  It was to secure that the church and its precincts might be kept as free as possible from the annoyance caused by the noise and smells necessarily connected with the preparation and consumption of the meals.

            As a rule, the walls of the hall would no doubt have been wainscotted.  At one end, probably, great presses would have been placed to receive the plate and linen, with the salt-cellars (salt dispenser), cups and other ordinary requirements of the common meals.  The floor of a monastic refectory was spread with hay or rushes, which covering was changed  three or four times in a year ; and the tables were ranged in single rows lengthways, with the benches for the monks upon the inside, where they sat with their backs to the paneled walls.  At the east end, under some sacred figure, or painting of the crucifix, or of our Lord in glory, called the Majestas, was the mensa major, or high table for the superior.  Above this the Scylla or small signal-bell was suspended.  This was sounded by the president of the meal as a sign that the community might begin their refection, and for the commencement of each of the new courses.  The pulpit, or reading-desk, was, as a rule, placed upon the south side of the hall, and below it was usually placed the table for the novices, presided over by their master.

Amongst the other weekly officials may be noted the servers and the readers at meals.  These brethren could take something to eat and drink before the community came to the refectory, in order the better to be able to do their duty.  The reader was charged very strictly always to prepare what he had to read beforehand and to find the places, so as to avoid all likelihood of mistakes.  He was to take the directions of the cantor (liturgist) as to pronunciation, pitch of the voice, and at the rate at which he was to read in public.  If he were ill, or for any other reason was unable to perform his duty, the cantor had to find a substitute. 

The servers began their week of duty by asking a blessing in church on Sunday morning.  They were at the disposal of the refectorian during their period of service, and followed his directions as to waiting on the brethren at meal times, preparing the tables, and clearing them after all had finished. 


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