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  1. #1

    Help What is required for a monastary

    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.

  2. #2
    Guild Adept
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    would not "farmland" and "mountaintop" be mutually exclusive?

  3. #3
    Software Dev/Rep Guild Sponsor waldronate's Avatar
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    The High Desert

    Default See also Machu Picchu for an example of terraced mountaintop farming.
    Last edited by waldronate; 05-11-2013 at 12:54 AM.

  4. #4
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    Meshon's Avatar
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    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!


  5. #5
    Guild Artisan Jacktannery's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Meshon View Post
    ... 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.

  6. #6


    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.

  7. #7


    I would diversify the farming as much as possible with vegetables, fruit trees, berry and melon patches, and maybe even a fish pond.

  8. #8


    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.

  9. #9


    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.

  10. #10


    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.
    Click image for larger version. 

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