What did the children learn at monastery schools?

Reading and writing

Children learnt the Latin alphabet, which was brought to Wales and the rest of Great Britian by the Romans.

Writing paper was very precious and was only used for books. Letters of the alphabet were written on discs of bone or small pebbles for children to learn. Words were made up by putting pebbles or discs together, more pebbles made more words.

Welsh pupils were also taught Ogam. David would also have learnt Welsh. Rhigyfarch (who wrote about the Life of David) described David as "a man of eloquence." This means that David was able to speak well and was able to talk with people of all walks of life, whether they were poor people of the local community, fellow monks or noble kings and princes.

The monks who had spent all their lives studying books taught the pupils all that they knew. To find a monk who had read lots of books was very difficult because books were so rare. There were no printing presses so each book had to be carefully copied by hand, taking many months to complete.

Each monastery had a small collection of books, but in order to read more books pupils would have to travel from one library to another. The best way of learning as much as possibly was to have a teacher who had read many books, so that he could pass on his knowledge of these books to his pupils. Excellent teachers, like Paulinus, were much sought after.

Pupils spent a great deal of time reading the Bible. Each book was read slowly so that the pupils could find the true meaning of the words. One of David's friends, a monk called Aidan, liked to sit outside reading.


School pupils would have been taught how to sing. They would have learnt the beautiful psalms found in the Bible as well as other hymns.They would have sung these in the church services. Unfortunately, none of the service books have survived from David’s time.


Pupils would have learnt astronomy so that they could use their knowledge of the position of the stars to help them on their travels.

(The wise men who visited King Herod to tell him of the birth of Jesus were astronomers, who then followed a star to Bethlehem. The wise men were known as ‘magi’ which is where the word ‘magician’ comes from).