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Title: Trapeza  
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Subject: Philip II, Metropolitan of Moscow
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A refectory (also frater, frater house, fratery) is a dining room, especially in monasteries, boarding schools, and academic institutions. One of the places the term is most often used today is in graduate seminaries. It is derived from the Latin reficere "to remake or restore," via Late Latin refectorium, which means "a place one goes to be restored."

Refectories and monastic culture

Communal meals provided one of the times in which all the monks of an establishment were together. Diet and eating habits differed somewhat by order, and more widely by time period. The Benedictine rule may be described as illustrative.

The Rule of St Benedict orders two meals. Dinner was provided for year-round; supper was also served from late spring to early fall, except for Wednesdays and Fridays. The diet originally consisted of simple fare: two dishes, with fruit as a third course if available. The food was simple, with the meat of mammals forbidden to all but the sick. Moderation in all aspects of diet was the spirit of Benedict's law. Meals were eaten in silence, facilitated sometimes by hand signals. A single monk might read from the Scriptures or writings of the saints aloud during the meals.

By the middle of the twelfth century, this early austerity had been softened. The softening occurred primarily because of the expansion of the Calendar of saints, which allowed for more elaborate meals in conjunction with longer services, candlelight, and the wearing of copes. Diet was also expanded by various equivocations or discriminations: most significantly, food consumed in the refectory was differentiated from extra food consumed elsewhere (often in a small room built for this purpose.) The Rule was considered to be followed if a certain percentage of monks, generally more than half, ate the regular meal in the refectory.

Size, structure, and placement

Refectories varied in size and dimension, based primarily on the wealth and size of the monastery, as well as the period in which the room was built. They shared certain design features. Monks ate at long benches; important officials sat at raised benches at one end of the hall. Outside the refectory usually stood a lavabo, or large basin for hand-washing. Other factors were also largely fixed by tradition. In England, the refectory was generally built on an undercroft (perhaps in an allusion to the upper room in which the Last Supper reportedly took place) on the side of the cloister opposite the church. Benedictine models were generally laid out on an east-west axis, while Cistercian models lay north-south.

Norman refectories could be as large as 160 feet (49 m) long by 35 feet (11 m) wide (as is that in the abbey at Norwich). Even relatively early refectories might have windows, but these became larger and more elaborate in the high medieval period: the refectory at Cluny Abbey was lit through thirty-six large glazed windows. That in the twelfth-century abbey at Mont Saint-Michel had six windows, five feet wide by twenty feet high.

Eastern Orthodox

In Eastern Orthodox monasteries, the Refectory (Greek: τράπεζα, trapeza) is considered to be a sacred place, and even in some cases is constructed as a full church with Altar and Iconostasis. Some services are intended to be performed specifically in the Trapeza. There is always at least one Icon with a lampada (oil lamp) kept burning in front of it. The service of the Lifting of the Panagia is performed at the end of meals. During Bright Week, this service is replaced with the Lifting of the Artos. In some monasteries, the Ceremony of Forgiveness at the beginning of Great Lent is performed in the Trapeza. All food served in the Trapeza should be blessed, and for that purpose, holy water is often kept in the kitchen.

Modern usage

As well as continued use of the historic monastic meaning, the word refectory is often used in a modern context to refer to a café or cafeteria which is open to the public, including non-worshippers such as tourists, attached to a cathedral or abbey. This usage is particularly prevalent in Church of England buildings which use the takings to supplement their income.[1]

Many universities in the UK also use refectory as the name of their student cafeteria and dining facilities.

See also



  • Adams, Henry, Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres. New York: Penguin, 1986.
  • Fernie, E. C. The Architecture of Norman England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Harvey, Barbara. Living and Dying in England, 1100-1450. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.
  • Singman, Jeffrey. Daily Life in Medieval Europe. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.
  • Webb, Geoffrey. Architecture in Britain: the Middle Ages. Baltimore: Penguin, 1956.

External links

  • Refectory in Russian Orthodox Convent Jerusalem


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