Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Abbey Chapter House

At Spencer, as all through the ages, great care was taken that the monastic buildings be beautiful, to reflect the glory of God and draw the monk heavenward. The harmonious disposition of spaces was meant to express Saint Benedict’s vision of a harmonious community as presented in his Rule. And indeed for us Cistercians, this would mean in addition a certain austerity and visual sobriety expressed in unadorned interior spaces and non-figurative grisaille glass. Great attention was given to proportion and the effects of light on bare walls. Our Cistercian forebears believed the monastery should be a cloistered paradise - where the monk could regain the innocence of Adam and Eve in Eden before the Fall.

All great architecture has its antecedents. The barn at Great Coxwell in Oxfordshire, England located at a grange of the Cistercian Abbey of Beaulieu, is dated to the late 13th or early 14th century. It seems to have been the inspiration for Spencer’s church and chapter house. The exterior with a pitched roof extending down to low side walls is certainly reminiscent. And our chapter house’s open timbering on the interior seems to echo the interior of the Great Coxwell barn.
The Great Coxwell Barn
Significant moments in the life of the Abbey occur in the chapter house. Novices are clothed in their habit by the Abbot in chapter; juniors profess their first vows and receive their black scapular and leather belt there. Each Sunday in late morning, we gather in the Chapter House for a talk by Father Abbot. And important Abbey business is discussed there.