Monastic life: the religious day
Birkenhead monks followed the Rule of St Benedict as set down in the 6th century. This was based on practical and common sense principles; serving God through work, prayer and charitable acts. The monks followed strict religious rules, but instead of retiring from the world, worked with local people in the community. They did not own personal possessions and promised to obey the Prior in all aspects of their lives.
Daily Life – ‘Pray and Work’
The monks’ life revolved around a series of church services or ‘hours’ : Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, to be performed at set times of the day. In addition the monks had fixed periods for eating, reading and study as well as for manual labour.
This was probably a typical day in the life of the Birkenhead monks.
Woken from first sleep
- Midnight – Go to church for Matins followed immediately by Lauds
Return to dormitory for second sleep
Woken by rising bell. Wash and shave.
- 6.00 am – First church service of daylight, Prime, the first hour
‘Mixtum’ or light meal in refectory - a ¼ pound of bread and a ⅓ of a pint of beer.
Study and private prayer.
- 9.00 am – back to church for Terce - the third hour
- Mass in church
Daily meeting in the Chapter house. Jobs allocated.
Study and work
- 12.00 noon – back to church for Sext - the sixth hour
Wash hands and face. Main meal of day eaten, in silence in the Refectory. This would be bread and a mug of beer followed by vegetable or porridge. The monks were only allowed to eat meat, fish and eggs on special occasions.
Study and work
- 3.00 pm – back to church for None - the ninth hour
Study and work.
- Sunset – back to church for Vespers – evening prayer
- After sunset – back to church for Compline
- 9.00 pm - Monastic day at an end. Retire to dormitory. Bed time.
Every day was the same except that working hours were longer in summer than winter. On Sundays and Saints’ days there was no work, but there would be additional services.