View Full Version : What is required for a monastary

05-10-2013, 10:44 PM
I'm working on the map for the first book of my upcoming series, and the entire book is set in a relatively self-sufficient mountaintop monastery. I'm looking for some help in stocking the complex. I have the temple, the main administration building, a dining hall with kitchen, housing for the monks, acolyte barracks, a healing hall, farmland and granaries, cisterns, a smelter and smithy, a healing hall, and libraries.

My question is: is there anything else this monastery will need to survive? And if this has already been posted, I apologize. I know this is similar to the many town posts, but since there is very little mercantile business going on, I thought it would be different.

Thanks in advance.

05-11-2013, 12:39 AM
would not "farmland" and "mountaintop" be mutually exclusive?

05-11-2013, 12:49 AM
http://www.strangefarmer.com/images/content/169664.jpg See also Machu Picchu for an example of terraced mountaintop farming.

05-11-2013, 01:23 AM
If they have a library then they probably made the books or scrolls themselves, which would require at least a scriptorium and possibly a herd of cows for vellum. Depending on the monastic tradition they might a small industry, like wine-making, which they can use to trade for things they need occasionally and don't have access to. They probably also need a place to meditate and ponder the ineffable, so a serene garden or a labyrinth to walk, a cloister to stroll, or some other mode(s) of entering a meditative state.

Or maybe they do that by farming!


05-11-2013, 04:24 AM
... and possibly a herd of cows for vellum.

They are going to need a bull too if they intend to make their own vellum! They would also require a good source of freshwater (ie a river) to fill and wash out the tanning pits for steeping the calf hides (& cow hides for the leather bindings). The cow- and calf-bones would then be turned into bone pins, bone combs, and other bone objects, and perhaps hooves into glue.

05-11-2013, 11:22 AM
Fresh flowing water would almost be impossible (nowhere above the mountain for it to flow to), That is why the cisterns, to catch all rain off the mountain.

Thanks for the tip about cottage industry. That would be needed, if for nothing else, to buy ore for the smelter. I also was considering sheep or perhaps goats instead of cows, they seem to be more hardy.

05-11-2013, 04:22 PM
I would diversify the farming as much as possible with vegetables, fruit trees, berry and melon patches, and maybe even a fish pond.

05-11-2013, 07:22 PM
When you say self-sufficient, do you mean it as in totally cut off from the world? In some places (like Ireland) monestaries attracted other people to settle nearbye and became hubs of the local economy. There could also be a hostel for sick and weary travellers, or pilgrims to a local holy site.

Also, many (if not most) of Europe's variety of cheeses, wines, and (iirc) beers were invented by monks. Elsewhere in the world, monks invented martial arts and forms of meditation instead. I'm not sure what exactly that says about Europe.

05-11-2013, 07:51 PM
Your typical monastery would indeed have various cottage industries. You could probably break it up into: those parts of the monastery associated with worship/religion, the parts associated with daily living, and the parts associated with industry, probably to raise some money.

The other thing that matters a lot is how isolated they are - if they are miles from the nearest village, they'll need to make most things for themselves. If, however, there's a village at the bottom of the hill, they can probably make do with much less. Remember, the traditional monastic life was meant to be humble, so you don't want to start cramming the monastery full of things they wouldn't have. I personally doubt a smelter and smithy would exist, for instance, as it seems a bit too specialised. What are they smelting? Do they have their own source of ores? If so, presumably means they are also running a mine, and the whole thing starts to sound more like a village than a monastery.

If this was a Christian monastery, you would expect:
- at least one cloister (for quiet contemplation)
- church (fairly obvious, really); churches also come with all sorts of different parts (eg chancel, westwerk, aisles, naves etc.); again, that's for a Christian monastery, so yours might be different.
- chapel/s (eg. if the monastery receives financial support from someone, such as the local lord, a wealthy merchant, even the king, that person might want the monastery to include a chapel to their patron saint). Chapels were common in monasteries; most monasteries would be devoted to at least one saint anyway, so would need to have a chapel for that saint somewhere (often attached to the church building)
- tombs: again, this is for a Christian monastery, but it was quite popular to be buried in a monastery, as it was sacred ground. Therefore, lords and kings might want to be buried in the monastery (perhaps look this up; I know it did happen, but I don't know how common the practice was). You would definitely need somewhere for the monks to be buried/cremated/eaten/whatever method is used
- reliquary: having a relic (eg the finger bones of Saint So-and-so) made a monastery wealthy, as pilgrims would come to visit; again, I don't know how common this was.
- chapterhouse: this, as I understand it, was basically the meeting hall for the monastery; apparently in Christian monasteries it would be located on the eastern wing of the cloister, although I don't know why
- refectory: self-explanatory
- kitchens: self-explanatory
- dormitories: self-explanatory
- infirmary: pretty self explanatory; some monasteries might have been set up also as hospitals, but, if yours is at the top of a mountain, that sounds unlikely
- gardens: as Talondor said, fruit and vegetables would be present (fruit trees have the additional benefit of not having to be on level ground, so you could have the orchards on sometimes steep slopes down the mountain). There would also be herb gardens (for food and medicine); fish pond seems plausible; I don't know about melon patches, but it's possible.
- guest houses: if you have pilgrims come to stay (especially if they are rich pilgrim) the monastery would often have a guest house or two to let them stay.
- administrative building/s

The thing about having cottage industries is that, monasteries live a busy life, and there aren't likely to be too many in the first place. That means you probably couldn't have more than one cottage industry (two at most), and so they'll be highly specialised. Historically, monasteries might be involved in book-making/illuminating, brewing, healing etc. The reason a cottage industry would exist is to make money, also, so if they already hav a good income (eg from pilgrims visiting a relic) then they might not bother with cottage industries. I'm a bit doubtful that they would not only translate/copy books but also go to the trouble of making their own vellum, inks, etc. They have to buy some stuff, like the gold for goldleaf, so wouldn't they just buy vellum/parchment/ink etc as well? As I said before, if I was working on this I would be very careful not to cram it too full of stuff. And as I always recommend, a simple google image search for 'monastery' will give a pretty good idea of what they usually possessed.

Good luck with it, though.

05-11-2013, 08:26 PM
Thanks very much for the detailed post, HW.

As for a bit of backstory (That will be covered in the novels as they progress), This is one of four monasteries set after the formation of the Roheline Empire's founding for the preservation of of knowledge concerning the prime God, Jumal Üks. It also is used to train the God's clergy, either the monks who have many various skills or the wizards who can also channel mana and perform divine magic. The skills learned by the monks include: Healing, History and lore, Weapons training, Farming and animal husbandry, Cloth making, Mechanical Training, General Education, Mathematics, Art, and Metallurgy.

So far included in the monastery are four basic heirarchial levels: Acolytes (Training to be monks), General Laborors (skilled and unskilled tradesmen, Monks (the main body of the clergy), and Wizards (Could be said to have been blessed by Jumal Üks and can channel his powers).

The reason the monks are given such a wide range of education is because many of them leave the monastery to spread the word.

I have not considered the issue of relics, either magical or spiritual, and honestly, I don't think I will include them in the canon. As for a nearby village. I can only assume there will be villages in the valley below the mountain, but, from the view of an acolyte (the main character in the novel), the monastery is almost completely isolated.

Also, HW. I didn't consider burial sites... Gotta think about that one.

Anyway, here is a map of what I have so far.

05-11-2013, 09:31 PM
Sounds like you've given the backstory quite a lot of thought, but, if you don't mind me saying so, I think the plan of your monastery could be different. I'll try to be constructive rather than critical.

- the scale of your monastery looks really big. The entire thing is ~1600 ft from west-east. Compare it to this picture of a monastery from google images (http://www.historyfish.net/images/monastics/plan_beaulieu_100.jpg). Beaulieu monastery is about 300 ft end to end. Your free to make yours bigger - it sounds like there are more things happening in yours than a typical Christian monastery - but size is important

- related to that, note the way the different buildings in Beaulieu monastery are all joined up. They aren't spread out over a wide area, with big gaps between them. The dormitories (labelled 'dorter' in Beaulieu) are on the upper floor, above the cellar, parlour, chapterhouse etc. The monks also don't get their own houses, as in your map; they might get a room (cell) for themselves, but mostly I suspect they just sleep in a single room in rows of beds. What I'm trying to say, basically, is that the whole monastery is much more compact. Land at the top of a mountain would be at a premium; the less space is taken up by buildings, the more can be used for farming.

- I still think a number of the things you have included shouldn't be. Why do they have their own foundry/smithy? Why their own clothier? Based on the map you've made, I would suggest that you could actually have a (small) village outside the east gate. The village could have weavers, blacksmiths, etc. There'd still be plenty of space for fields, especially since there aren't likely to be many people in a monastery-village complex. Also, why are general labourers included within the monastery? Monasteries did need labourers in the past, but they would *always* be outside the walls. They aren't members of the religious order (at least not in a professional sense) and so they wouldn't be allowed to live there. It sounds like you already had the basis for a village without realising it.

- on a much more basic level, there is something rather strange looking about those cisterns. First, it makes a lot of sense that you'd want all your water in the same place - saves maintenance and time. Secondly, are there walls around those? Are they underground? How can they exist without falling down the slope?

- from your description, it sounds like your monastery might be more like the kind of thing found in Asia, rather than Europe. I found this (http://studiesofamerica.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/shaolin-temple-map.jpg) picture on google images, showing the Eastern Shaolin Monastery. It has many of the same things I've already mentioned, like compactness, although it's a bit hard to tell with that image.

I've probably written enough for today. Hope some of those comments are helpful.

05-11-2013, 11:03 PM
They are very helpful, and have given me a lot to think about. As for the cisterns. I'm not happy with how they look on the map. Idealy they should be large reseviors along the sides of the mountain, preferably covered, but I have no idea how to draw something like that. Any ideas on that would be helpful.

05-12-2013, 02:17 AM
They are very helpful, and have given me a lot to think about. As for the cisterns. I'm not happy with how they look on the map. Idealy they should be large reseviors along the sides of the mountain, preferably covered, but I have no idea how to draw something like that. Any ideas on that would be helpful.

What about the walls being cisterns? If they were wide enough, you could have 5-foot walkways on either side of a 10 foot gap. The rain enters the cistern through the gap and gets stored inside the walls. The monks could even work out a running water system that way. Also, here (http://www.lightstalking.com/cisterns) are some pictures of ancient cisterns for inspiration.

05-12-2013, 12:00 PM
They are very helpful, and have given me a lot to think about. As for the cisterns. I'm not happy with how they look on the map. Idealy they should be large reseviors along the sides of the mountain, preferably covered, but I have no idea how to draw something like that. Any ideas on that would be helpful.

Cisterns don't necessarily need to be visible. It could be constructed to channel rainwater from roofs and catch basins into an underground tank, and the water could be drawn up much the same as a regular well. Consider the rain gutters on most houses could as easily lead to an underground storage tank. Also, there's no reason that even has to be outdoors; the cistern might be accessible from the kitchen or cellar area, for instance. If you want them to have "indoor plumbing," have the cisterns built into the upper story of the building and feed a gravity-powered system. Doesn't have to be high-tech.

Of course, for cisterns to be practical, the area needs to have at least moderate precipitation. Alternately (or as well), they might have constructed condensation traps. Normally, those are not really sufficient for this purpose, but if these guys are wizards, they might have enhanced their efficiency somehow.

05-13-2013, 03:08 AM
In the key, "12. Monk/Wizard Logding" should be "Lodging".

It looks more like a military camp than a monastery, because of the way those lodgings are laid out. Maybe it's a repurposed site and those use to be military barracks? Maybe four monks to a building (could easily be more, especially if they've mastered bunk-bed technology).

05-14-2013, 04:54 PM
Here is a redo of the monastery which is more to my liking. It seems there is some confusion as to the lodging (understandable). What I have envisioned for my novels is more a combination of McCaffrey's Wyers, especially during the long interval when Benden declined, a center for study and reflection, and a seminary. There is no distinction between the sexes here (Monk and Wizard are appropriate titles for both men and women) and most acolytes were born and raised in the monastery.

Rdanhenry, Thanks for the typo catch. My proofreader missed that one (guess I'll have to fire him).


05-20-2013, 08:04 PM
Just a thought. Tanners where kept to the outskirts of towns due to the smell of the process. It would be unlikely ther would be a tanner within the walls.

05-23-2013, 03:02 AM
I would make the granaries much larger personally. And if they're growing their own grain they'll need a barn to store the wheat and thresh it over winter (this needs to be a big barn that's out in the open so doors can be opened on both sides to get wind flow through it), and a mill to grind it down into flour (perhaps a wind-mill next to the irrigation "windmill", or alternatively it could be powered by water from the cisterns).

Personally I find it hard to accept the idea of individual structures for the monks and wizards' living quarters. It's an incredibly inefficient way of housing people both in terms of raw materials and in terms of heating in winter (which is particularly important on a mountain top). Granted, this is to reflect an existing story so if that's how you've presented it, that's how it is, but if you have flexibility I'd seriously look at having large multi-room structures instead.

The only other thing that struck me is generally the temple/church in a monastery is by far the largest structure. After all - that's the point of it being there.

Of course, a disclaimer, this isn't a map for the sake of a map, but a map reflecting a place in a story, so without knowing the details many of my comments might be irrelevant.

01-06-2014, 01:30 AM
How do the monks make a living? Unless the monks survive on alms only. They will need to make money for things they cannot grow or create. The monks will brew beer to drink and normally will have a diary animals to make cheeses that will go well with the beer. Those are for survival of the monks. Monks have made money by weaving, by illuminating books, by copying books or printing. Growing food to sell as well as for themselves. Making boots and shoes and craft or trade that is not against their religion.


01-07-2014, 11:11 AM
The only other thing that struck me is generally the temple/church in a monastery is by far the largest structure. After all - that's the point of it being there.
It is helpful for any community to have a building in town large enough to accommodate all of the adults for an important meeting ... many experimental and pioneer communities built a 'meeting hall' of some sort that often served as church, school, town hall and dance hall as needed. Your church would seem to be a logical structure to fit that purpose.