Mendicant Friars

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An article on monastic arrangements would be incomplete without some account of the convents of the Mendicant or Preaching Friars, including the Black Friars or Dominicans, the Grey or Franciscans, the White or Carmelites, the Eremite or Austin, Friars. These orders arose at the beginning of the 13th century, when the Benedictines, together with their various reformed branches, had terminated their active mission, and Christian Europe was ready for a new religious revival.


Planting themselves, as a rule, in large towns, and by preference in the poorest and most densely populated districts, the Preaching Friars were obliged to adapt their buildings to the requirements of the site. Regularity of arrangement, therefore, was not possible, even if they had studied it. Their churches, built for the reception of large congregations of hearers rather than worshippers, form a class by themselves, totally unlike those of the elder orders in ground-plan and character. They were usually long parallelograms unbroken by transepts. The nave very usually consisted of two equal bodies, one containing the stalls of the brotherhood, the other left entirely free for the congregation. The constructional choir is often wanting, the whole church forming one uninterrupted structure, with a continuous range of windows. The east end was usually square, but the Friars Church at Winchelsea had a polygonal apse. We not unfrequently find a single transept, sometimes of great size, rivalling or exceeding the nave.

This arrangement is frequent in Ireland, where the numerous small friaries afford admirable exemplifications of these peculiarities of ground-plan. The friars' churches were at first destitute of towers; but in the 14th and 15th centuries, tall, slender towers were commonly inserted between the nave and the choir. The Grey Friars at Lynn, where the tower is hexagonal, is a good example. The arrangement of the monastic buildings is equally peculiar and characteristic. We miss entirely the regularity of the buildings of the earlier orders. At the Jacobins at Paris, a cloister lay to the north of the long narrow church of two parallel aisles, while the refectory--a room of immense length, quite detached from the cloister--stretched across the area before the west front of the church. At Toulouse the nave also has two parallel aisles, but the choir is apsidal, with radiating chapel. The refectory stretches northwards at right angles to the cloister, which lies to the north of the church, having the chapter-house and sacristy on the east.

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This document is part of an article on the Abbey from the 1911 edition of an encyclopedia which is out of copyright here in the U.S. The article is in the public domain, and you may copy, download, print and distribute this work as you see fit.

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