Medieval monks had gourmet lifestyle

THE POPULAR image of the corpulent medieval monk, feasting away the time he should have been spending at prayer, seems to have been confirmed by the discovery of lavish medieval food remains at St Albans Abbey.

The food remains, consisting of thousands of animal, bird and fish bones in two rubbish dumps dating from the 12th and 14th centuries, suggest that monks at the Benedictine abbey were not keeping to the precise letter of the Rule of St Benedict, which favoured a mostly vegetarian diet.

The bones belonged not only to cattle, sheep and pigs - luxuries for most Englishmen in the 12th century - but also to game animals such as red and roe deer and hare, which were delicacies usually reserved for the king's table.

Dale Sergeantson, a specialist in animal bone remains at Southampton University, said the food remains were exactly the type that would be found at a royal palace from the period.

'Frankly, we were astonished by what we found. Nowhere else in England has such a high proportion of high-status food remains. The monks were living anything but an abstemious life,' she said.

In addition to animal bones the excavations also found the bones of an array of game birds, including wood pigeon, mallard, woodcock, teal, brent goose, heron and crane. The monks also ate blackbird and thrush, and domestic chicken, goose, and dove. Fish on the monks' diet included halibut and turbot, salmon and pike.

Most monks at St Albans in the Norman era came from England's leading noble families, and many would have expected to continue their high standard of living, according to Martin Biddle, professor of medieval archaeology at Oxford University, who directed the excavations.

Benedictine luxury had its critics in the 12th century, however, and prompted the foundation, at the Abbey of Citeaux in France, of the more rigorous, Cistercian monastic order.

In a famous debate in the 1120s between St Bernard of Clairvaux, a leading Cistercian monk, and Peter the Venerable, Abbot of the great Benedictine Abbey at Cluny, Bernard denounced the 'comfortable lifestyles and full stomachs' of the Cluniac monks, and accused them of abandoning the life of strict discipline and manual labour set out in St Benedict's original Rule.

Suggested Topics
News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst/ Project Manager - Financial Services

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client in the Financial...

Year 3 Teacher - Winsford

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Year 3 Teachers needed in Winsford We ...

Behaviour support worker

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Behavioural support worker Pupil r...

Year 5/6 Teacher - Winsford

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Year 5/6 Teachers needed in WinsfordWe...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits