The reasons for becoming a nun, their clothes and the different orders are detailed in
Medieval Nuns and
Nuns Clothes in the Middle Ages. This section specifically applies to the daily life of the nuns.
The Life of Medieval Nuns
The life of Medieval nuns was dedicated to worship, reading, and working in the convent or nunnery. In addition to their attendance at church, the nuns spent several hours in private prayer, and meditation. Women were not usually well educated during the Middle Ages although some nuns were taught to read and write. The convents and nunneries provided the only source of education for women during the Middle Ages although the knowledge the nuns were provided with was carefully screened by the Church hierarchy. The life of medieval nuns were filled with the following work and chores:
- Washing and cooking for the monastery
- Raising the necessary supplies of vegetables and grain
- Producing wine, ale and honey
- Providing medical care for the community
- Providing education for novices
- Spinning, weaving and embroidery
- Illuminating manuscripts
Not all nuns were given hard, manual work. Women who came from wealthy backgrounds were invariably given lighter work and spent time on such tasks as spinning and embroidery. There were also lay sisters who were female members of the convent or nunnery who were not bound to the recitation of the divine office and spent their time occupied in manual work.
The Daily Life of Medieval Nuns - Jobs and Occupations in the convent or nunnery
The daily life of Medieval nuns included many different jobs and occupations. The names and descriptions of many of these positions are detailed below:
- Abbess - the head of an abbey who was elected by the nuns for life.
- Almoner - an almoner was a nun who dispensed alms to the poor and sick
- Cellarer - the cellarer was the nun who supervised the general provisioning of the monastery
- Infirmarian - the nun in charge of the infirmary
- Sacrist - the sacrist was the nun responsible for the safekeeping of books, vestments and vessels, and for the maintenance of the convent's buildings
- Prioress - in an abbey the deputy of the abbess or the superior of a priory that did not have the status of an abbey
Daily Life of a Nun in the Middle Ages - the Daily Routine
The daily life of a Medieval nun during the Middle Ages centred around the hours. The Book of Hours was the main prayer book and was divided into eight sections, or hours, that were meant to be read at specific times of the day in the convent. Each section contained prayers, psalms, hymns, and other readings intended to help the nuns secure salvation for herself. Each day was divided into these eight sacred offices, beginning and ending with prayer services in the convent or nunnery church. These were the times specified for the recitation of divine office which was the term used to describe the cycle of daily devotions. The times of these prayers were called by the following names - Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers and Compline:
- Lauds : the early morning service of divine office approx 5am
- Matins : the night office; the service recited at 2 am in the divine office
- Prime : The 6am service
- Sext : the third of the Little Hours of divine office, recited at the sixth hour (noon)
- Nones : the fourth of the Little Hours of the divine office, recited at the ninth hour (3 pm)
- Terce : the second of the Little Hours of divine office, recited at the third hour (9 am)
- Vespers : the evening service of divine office, recited before dark (4 - 5pm)
- Compline : the last of the day services of divine office, recited before retiring (6pm)
Any work was immediately ceased at these times of daily prayer. The nuns were required to stop what they were doing and attend the services. The food of the monks was generally basic and the mainstay of which was bread and meat. The beds they slept on were pallets filled with straw.