Sunday, June 2

Summer Banquet Blog Hop: Medieval Monks' Meals

Welcome to my post in the Summer Banquet Blog Hop! In my medieval thriller, The Fifth Knight, food plays its part. There is a pivotal scene where the five knights, including the hero, Sir Benedict Palmer, feast lavishly upon their arrival at Knaresborough Castle. It is due to his overindulgence at this feast that Palmer discovers the true nature of his mission for the ringleader, Sir Reginald Fitzurse. But for this post, I'm going to look at the eating habits of another Benedict- as well as the eating habits of men and women inspired by this second Benedict. 
For it was Saint Benedict who was a key figure in starting the monastic movement in the early Christian Church. Benedict was a Roman nobleman who in around 500 AD, choose to leave Rome and worship Christ in an isolated setting. Hie popularity grew and he founded his own monastery, writing his famous Benedictine Rule. The Rule is a set of regulations for those in the monastic life and shaped almost every aspect of that life in the medieval period. 
Saint Benedict did not approve of personal possessions, he proscribed how many hours a monk should sleep. And the Rule also laid down what monks should eat and the quantities of food that should be eaten.Benedict was a fan of black bread, plain water, greens and vegetables. He believed that monks should eat once a day in winter and have a second lighter meal in summer in the evenings when days were longer. His plan was that monks should have a choice of two cooked meals, vegetable or cereal based and which could include a modest amount of fish or some egg. Meat was only for those who were ill. On feast days, monks could be allowed a supplementary treat known as a 'pittance'. A pittance might be better quality bread or wine instead of beer. 
Dressed Peacock- not what Saint Benedict would have had in mind.
The rationale behind Benedict's Rule was to support one of the three monastic vows: chastity. There was a belief that a rich diets inflamed the senses, incited greed and lust. A full monk was a sleepy monk, and so would not be in a fit state to pray for hours at a time. Benedict did acknowledge that monks needed to have extra treats every now and then. Brothers were allowed to eat more if they were invited to the Abbot's table. 
But as with all good intentions, the Rule was adapted over the centuries. A special room called the misericord was built for infirm monks. This was separate to the main refectory (dining room), so meat could be eaten here. Yet monks in full health would retire there to consume meat. By 1336, Pope Benedict XII (yes, another Benedict!) permitted meat on four days outside of fast days. And what meat: records show the consumption of beef, mutton, pork, veal, suckling pig. Poultry and game were also popular: monks consumed swan, cygnet, chicken, duck, goose. 
Medieval Butchers at Work
It has been calculated that some monks could have been consuming up to 7000 calories a day. Astonishing when you think that today, the recommended calorie intake for an adult male is 2500 calories. What is also of note is that as much as one fifth of these calories could have come from alcohol. Monks had access to beer (as did the rest of the population: it was safer to drink than water) but also wine.
Monks' reputation for Gluttony 
Fish was also popular, especially as no-one was allowed to eat meat on a Friday. Earlier in the medieval period, Wednesdays and Saturdays were also non-meat days, as well as the dietary restrictions imposed for Lent and Advent. That didn't stop the monks. With another bit of monastic Rule tweaking, certain types of geese and puffins were deemed to be fish because of their close association with water. A monastic feast day (of which there was about one a week) could consist of a couple of dozen dishes.
And of course, these huge levels of consumption were taking place in a society where the vast majority of people were at the brink of starvation or were actually starving. Ordinary people began to deeply resent the excesses of the privileged religious, as the picture above shows.The stereotype of the overfed monk, portly in his robes, immune from poverty, became one focus for discontent with the established church. By the fourteenth century there were poems and ballads mocking the monastic life and the over-privileged monks. 
As for my Benedict, Sir Benedict Palmer? Despite the thrill of attending his first banquet, he too  has doubts about the wealth of the church while ordinary people go without. Why not check out his story here
If you would like the chance of winning a signed copy of The Fifth Knight, (the #1 Amazon Bestseller in Action & Adventure and Historical) leave a comment at the end of this blog.
And make sure you check out the rest of the posts on this Blog Hop- you'll find great posts and giveaways!
Congratulations to Shelly Hammond whose comment was chosen at random to win a copy of The Fifth Knight. Hope you enjoy the read, Shelly!
Blog Hop Participants
  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Anna Belfrage
  4. Debra Brown
  5.  Lauren Gilbert
  6. Gillian Bagwell
  7. Julie K. Rose
  8. Donna Russo Morin
  9. Regina Jeffers
  10. Shauna Roberts
  11. Tinney S. Heath
  12. Grace Elliot
  13. Diane Scott Lewis
  14. Ginger Myrick
  15. Helen Hollick
  16. Heather Domin
  17. Margaret Skea
  18. Yves Fey
  19. JL Oakley
  20. Shannon Winslow
  21. Evangeline Holland
  22. Cora Lee
  23. Laura Purcell
  24. P. O. Dixon
  25. E.M. Powell
  26. Sharon Lathan
  27. Sally Smith O’Rourke
  28. Allison Bruning
  29. Violet Bedford
  30. Sue Millard
  31. Kim Rendfeld


  1. While reading books set in the medieval times I have mentioned many times to my beer-loving husband that beer was consumed throughout the day - it makes him want to go back in time for a few days

    meikleblog at gmail dot com

  2. I'm getting no owrk done today - too busy reading all the articles on the Banquet Blog Hop - fascinating!

  3. Really interesting post - a good idea to focus on monastic diets and how they changed over the years.

  4. After reading the Brother Cadfael series, I have been intrigued by medieval monastic life. This post about their eating rituals was a nice piece. Thanks and thanks for the giveaway opportunity.

  5. thank you for your share & for the giveaway!!!!!
    i'm hoping that reading all of these posts in this hop will aid in my hopes to lose weight!!! i love to eat, but starting to get a bit nauseous!!! LOL!!!

  6. 7000 kcal is a lot! No wonder some of the monks looked corpulent :) Thank you so much for this interesting post.


  7. Thanks for this fascinating information! I'm glad I don't have to follow Benedict's diet!
    Susan Heim
    smhparent [at] hotmail [dot] com

  8. Benedict's diet would not please me.

  9. 7000 calories! Wowza! That is probably more than the Man vs. Food guy on TV eats each day!

    This was very interesting, and I love the images.

  10. Swan and cygnet yuck! They seemed to eat as well as the King! Thanks for the giveaway!

  11. The Fifth Knight sounds incredible. I love medieval books and things but I think my husband gets a little annoyed with me when I read them. See, he's from Scotland (he came here 6 years ago when we got married) so every time I come across a word I don't know or just want to hear read with an accent, I make him read it out loud :D I also have to make him my dictionary for all words I don't know the meaning of, but I think he secretly makes thinks up just to throw me off but it's still funny.

    Consuming 7000 calories a day :O I don't know if I should be appalled or impressed! Now if those were all cake and pizza (I know there wasn't pizza just yet but, hey, if there was they'd have liked it!) I'd be really jealous!

    I better stop type babbling but thank you for the chance to enter and for the incredibly cool and informative blog posting. Have a wonderful day one and all and hopefully everyone can still look at geese the same way.

    Shelly H.

  12. Count me among the appalled too. They must have worked very hard in the fields not to all end up too fat to get out of bed!

    ShaunaRoberts [at} nasw [dot] org

  13. Enjoyed your post. So amazing the detail that goes into writing about food in our novels. I loved the Name of the Rose so thought of that. Would enjoy your novel. timelinelady at gmail dot com.

  14. Great post and so glad I found your hop! Thanks for the great giveaway.
    kacidesigns AT yahoo DOT com

  15. And we now have the liqueur Benedictine, which makes fab ice-cream.

  16. It sounds very interesting!
    i like the post very much keep it up
    Yah this blog is making a dfference. I love it.
    Buy AC online


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