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Dunfermline Abbey, Scotland © Robin Simpson
Dunfermline Abbey
Fife, Scotland

Abbeys and Priories:
Daily Life in a Medieval Monastery

Winter | Summer | Glossary

For most monks and nuns the basis of their daily life was the Rule of Saint Benedict. In his rule, Benedict devised a rigid, monotonous routine of work, prayer, study and sleep designed to make the mind and the will submissive to God. The pattern of the day varied only according to the seasons of the year and the liturgical calendar.

The schedule of a monastic day shown below is based on the Regularis Concordia – a common rule of life to be observed by all monasteries, produced around 970– which would, with some variations, have been observed from the early to mid-eleventh century.

Winter Schedule

2:30AM
Preparation for night office (Nocturns); trina oratorio and gradual psalms.
3:00AM
Nocturns (later known as Matins) including prayers for the royal family and for the dead.
5:00AM
Reading
6:00AM
Matins (Lauds) at daybreak, Prime
7:30AM
Reading
8:00AM
Wash and change, Terce, Morrow mass, Chapter
9:45AM
Work
12:00PM
Sext, Sung Mass
1:30PM
None
2:00PM
Dinner
2:45PM
Work
4:15PM
Vespers
5:30PM
Change into night shoes
6:00PM
Collatio
6:15PM
Compline
6:30PM
Bed

Summer Schedule

1:30AM:
Preparation for night office (Nocturns); trina oratorio and gradual psalms.
2:00:AM:
Nocturns (later known as Matins) including prayers for the royal family and for the dead.
3:30AM:
Matins (Lauds) at daybreak.
4:00AM:
Change and wash.
5:00AM:
Trina Oratorio, Reading
6:00AM:
Prime, Morrow Mass, Chapter
7:30AM:
Work
8:00AM:
Terce, Sung Mass
9:30AM:
Reading
11:30AM:
Sext
12:00PM:
Dinner
1:00PM:
Siesta
2:30PM:
None, Drink
3:00PM
Work
5:30PM
Supper
6:00PM
Vespers
7:30PM:
Change into night shoes, Collatio
8:00PM:
Compline
8:15PM:
Bed

Glossary

Nocturns
Latin: Nocturnus "by night"
The first service in the Liturgy of Hours. Prayed at the beginning of the new day between midnight and daybreak.
Matins
Latin: Matutinus "morning"
Chanted or recited in choir at the end of the night, before dawn.
Prime
Latin: Prima "first"
Consisted of a hymn, three psalms, a Scripture reading, versicles and responses and a concluding prayer.
Terce
Latin: Tertia "third"
Celebrated at the third hour of the Liturgy of Hours. Originating from the early practice of commemorating different moments in Christ's Passion at the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day. Terce was associated with the Crucifixion.
Sext
Latin: Sext "sixth"
Prayed at the "sixth hour", roughly around noon. A brief service with little variation in text and song.
None
Latin: Nona hora "ninth hour"
Marked the ninth hour from dawn. Another brief service with little variation in text and song.
Vespers
Latin: Vespers "evening star"
Celebrated in the early evening as daylight ended. Included a hymn, two psalms, a canticle, a Scripture reading, a proper responsory, the Magnificat with its antiphon, a litany of intercessory prayer, the Lord's Prayer, and a concluding blessing.
Collatio
A group method of prayer where a Scripture is read aloud, then each participant tells how the Scripture is speaking to them.
Compline
Latin: Complere "to complete"
The night service that signalled the end of the day. Consisted of a short lesson, confession, three psalms and responsory, hymn, canticle and Marian Antiphon.