Building a medieval monastery

A lot of people in today’s society long for a simpler lifestyle, with less technology, fewer consumer goods, and a less hectic pace. But how many would want to try out a 9th century way of living and working?

A German building contractor could give them that opportunity. Bert Geurten plans to build a monastery town the same way it would have been done back in the 9th century. He will use the Plan of St. Gall, which provides a blueprint for a medieval town and monastery.

Back in the 90’s, I read Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, and was fascinated by the details of what it took to build a cathedral (as well as by the characters he created). Follett’s book was set in the 12th century, so even the technology available then would have been more advanced than what the builders in Messkirch will use. Of course, they won’t be trying to build a Gothic cathedral, since the Gothic style of architecture didn’t develop until the 12th century.

What both centuries had in common, though – as did every century until the last three – was the total dependence on manual labor. I know a few people who have the know-how to do construction on their own homes instead of having to hire a contractor (one of my co-workers is re-roofing the house he is in the process of selling). But they all use power tools, and materials manufactured or processed using industrial machinery.

Apparently a lot of people like the idea of working without power tools, however. There are a lot of stone masons eager to work on the monastery project, and blacksmiths who want to craft tools for them.

Pay will be low and the hours long – only one weekend off during the eight months of weather warm enough for construction work. And the only food available will be what is grown on site.

I’m curious just how far the insistence on authenticity will go. Construction workers will be limited to ninth-century type outerwear in bad weather; will the rest of their clothes need to be authentic also? I assume the town will have neither electricity nor modern plumbing; how will they handle sanitation?

As a child I enjoyed camping, other than when the campground had poorly maintained (i.e. stinky) outhouses. I didn’t mind the lack of hot showers or TV. But we had the use of a gasoline lantern so I could read after dark, and we had pancakes and hot chocolate for breakfast.

I’ve been camping with Scouts a couple of times in the last few years, and I’m very glad to get home to indoor plumbing and a real bed. I think I could get used to no internet or video games pretty easily, but how long would I want to go without novels, crossword books, or magazines? I don’t think of myself as a picky eater, but a ninth century German diet would be very limited.

  • No potatoes
  • No corn
  • No tomatoes
  • No peppers or squash
  • No chocolate or vanilla

And of course only fruits and vegetables that grow in the local soil, and are in season. And everything has to be prepared using the limited cooking methods available.

Beverages would be even more limited. The history of coffee goes back to the ninth century, but apparently not in that part of Germany. Will the workmen have to drink “small beer” before reporting for work in the morning? (I was amused to learn, a few years ago, that the widespread availability of coffee at workplaces was originally not to please the workers, but to provide an alternative to beer that would keep them sober while operating industrial machinery.)

I am fascinated by history, and I love seeing “living history” exhibits. I am especially interested in medieval history, and particularly where churches are involved. I would love to be able to visit the site of this medieval monastery.

But I’m not sure how long I’d like to live there.

One Response to Building a medieval monastery

  1. modestypress says:

    As soon as somebody gets sick with an ailment that needs modern medicine to cure, they will discover their affection for the modern world very quickly.

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