At the Tables of the Monks: The Cellarer

Until June 2, because of a time-consuming project, “Gherkins & Tomatoes’ ” posts will cover the key players in medieval monastic kitchens.*

We begin with The Cellarer.

Adam the Cellarer, St. Alban's

THE CELLARER (p. 71-73):

The cellarer was the monastic purveyor of all foodstuffs for the community. His chief duty, perhaps, was to look ahead and to see that the stores were not running low ; that the corn had come in from the granges, and flour from the mill, and that is was ready for use by the bakers ; that what was needed of flesh, fish, and vegetables for immediate use was ready at hand. He had to provide all that was necessary for the kitchen ; but was to make no great purchases without the knowledge and consent of the abbot. In some places it was enjoined that every Saturday he was to consult with the prior as to the requirements of the coming week, so as to be prepared with the changes of diet associated by custom with certain times and feasts. To procure the necessary stores, the cellarer had of course to be frequently away at the granges and at neighbouring fairs and markets ; but he had to inform the abbot and prior when he would be absent, and to leave the keys of his office with his assistant. As the “Martha” of the establishment always busy with many things in the service of the brethren, he was exempt from much of the ordinary choir duty, but when not present at the public Office, he had to say his own privately in a side chapel. He did not sleep usually in the common dormitory, but in the infirmary, as he was frequently wanted at all hours.

As part of his duty the cellarer had charge of all the servants, whom he alone could engage, dismiss, or punish. He presided at their table after the conventual meals, unless he had to be present in the abbot’s chamber to entertain guests, when the under-cellarer took his place. At dinner, the cellarer stood by the kitchen hatch to see the dishes as they came in, and that the serving was properly done. On days when the community had dishes of large fish, or great joints of meat, or other portions from which many had to be served before the dinner, the dishes, after being divided in the kitchen, were set in the vestibule of the cellarer’s office and there the prior inspected them to see that the portions were fairly equal. At supper it was his duty to serve out the cheese and cut it into pieces for the brethren.


* [Note: All information quoted from Mr. F. A. Gasquet’s English Monastic Life (1905, public domain, and transcribed by Richenda Fairhurst, July 2007).]