Background information for teachers: FOOD

Many of the foods which we eat today had not been heard of in David's time. There were no potatoes or fruit like tomatoes.

Where did the monks eat?

When they had finished work in the fields, in the scriptorium (the writing room) and in chapel, they would wash their hands and file quietly into the dining room (known as the refectory), to have their food. They were not allowed to talk during their meals.

David would spend time in chapel praying whilst the other monks were eating. He would have eaten later and probably not as much as the other monks. Fasting was very important.

What did David and his monks eat?

David and his monks were vegetarians. They lived an ascetic life - following strict rules. They had a simple diet of food, eating only bread cooked with herbs and sometimes onions, leeks or garlic. They drank only water. Those who were ill or elderly were allowed to have a little fish. Eating meat was forbidden. The monks were not allowed to eat between meals.

This strict diet was followed for centuries by the monks who lived after David at his monastery. Nearly four hundred years after David's death the Bishop of St. Davids (Bishop Morgeneu) began eating meat. When he was killed by Viking raiders, many people thought it was because he had broken David's strict rules.

Did other monasteries follow such strict diets?

Other monastic orders were not as strict as David's. The monks could have soup, fish, eggs, peas or beans and perhaps cheese or fruit. They would be allowed to drink beer or wine. They were not allowed to eat red meat (like beef), but they could eat meat from birds such as chickens, geese and pigeons.

On feast days the monks in these monasteries were allowed to eat a special treat, such as pork or bacon. This would be paid for by a friend of the monks. The special treat was known as a pittance.

The kitchener was in charge of cooking and providing the meals which the monks ate in the refectory. (Sometimes the kitchener was known as the refectorian). The cellarer was responsible for looking after the food and drink supplies.


The monks ate their meals in silence. The only person to be heard speaking was the monk who would be reading from the Bible or some other religious book. Because books were in such short supply, the reader may have told a story from memory. The monks used every opportunity they could to listen to God's words.

Are monasteries today still as strict about eating?

Many monastic orders have relaxed their rules about what foods they can or cannot eat. However, they do not indulge in luxuries. Breakfast will consist of bread or toast with jam, served with tea or coffee.

Most monks are not vegetarians. Long ago meat would have been served once a week, as would eggs. However, these rules no longer apply. The monks realise the importance of a balanced diet and so a variety of food is eaten. The monks are allowed to have a glass of wine or beer with their main meal.

After walking in silence to the refectory the monks stand at their places. After a gong has been rung they sing grace before sitting down to eat their meal. The abbot usually eats alone in his rooms, but all other monks are present.

The monks still eat in strict silence. If they need something passed to them at the table they use a special sign language.

The monks still listen to a religious reading whilst they eat. The monk who is reading stands behind a special raised desk called a pulpit. (You will find a pulpit at the front of a chapel or church - it is where the preacher or vicar reads the Bible when he is preaching). The monk will have his food, usually something simple like a bowl of soup, before or after the other monks' meal.

Monks today still spend much time doing manual jobs, but unlike David and his monks, they will be allowed a cup of tea or coffee between meals.

An activity to try:

Write a menu for a day's meals of a monk today. Compare it with a typical day of yours.