Historical makes and bakes
Text: What's for dinner in a medieval monastery?

Monks ate together in a special room called the refectory.  Their diet was mainly vegetarian, although fish (and, by the late Middle Ages, also meat) was allowed on special occasions.

For most of the year, the monks had only one main meal a day.  They ate in silence while listening to a reading from the bible or another religious book.

Image: illustration of monks eating in a monastery


It’s the mid-15th century and the Cistercian monks are gathered in the refectory at Cleeve Abbey to eat their only meal of the day. Click below to download a colouring sheet, and use pencils, pens or paints to create your own version of the scene!

Download your colouring sheet

What's on the menu?

  • Fish

    Fresh fish was a real treat that was only eaten on occasions such as the feast days of saints. Eggs and other delicacies were also served on special occasions. These treats were known as pittances.

  • Vegetable Soup

    The monks lived mainly on a diet of thick, porridge-like soup, cooked without any fat. It would have tasted very plain – not like the soup we’re used to today!

  • Grainy Bread

    Although fresh, the monk’s bread was rough and teeth-breakingly hard. However, they would soften it by soaking it in beer and it would have been very filling.

  • Green Vegetables

    Monks and nuns would have eaten the vegetables they grew in their gardens in the grounds of the abbey.  These included leeks, peas, beans and cabbage.

  • Weak Beer

    Monks drank up to a gallon of ‘small beer’ each day. As well as being a safe way of staying hydrated, beer was an important source of their energy and nutrients.

Meet St Aelred!

We sent young Members Emily and Sam to Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire to interview its most famous monk, St Aelred.

Find out what life was like as a monk in the 12th century, watch Aelred make a kind of bread porridge, and discover how monks managed to communicate even when they weren't allowed to talk! 

Watch the Video

Over to you...

  • Favourite Foods

    Imagine you could travel back in time and live at a medieval monastery.  You can pack one food to take with you – what food would you miss the most?

  • A Holy Guest

    Imagine a monk is coming to dinner at your house. What modern-day meal would you make for them? Write up your menu on tea-stained paper.

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