At the Tables of the Monks: The Kitchener

The Cellerar's Domain (Photo credit: Br. Lawrence Lew, O. P.)
The Cellerar's Domain (Photo credit: Br. Lawrence Lew, O. P.)

THE KITCHENER (p. 80-81)

The office of kitchener was one of great responsibility. He was appointed in Chapter by the abbot with the advice of the prior, and he should be one who was agreeable to the community. According to the Custumal of one great English abbey, the kitchener was to be almost a paragon of virtue. He ought to be “a truly religious man, just, upright, gentle, patient, and trustworthy. He should be ready to accept suggestions, humble in his demeanour, and kind to others. He should be known to be of good disposition and conversation ; always ready to return a mild answer to those who came to him.” He was “not to be lavish, nor too niggardly, but ever to keep the happy mean in satisfying the needs of his brethren, and in his gifts of food and other things to such as made application to him. And as the safeguard of all the rest, he should strive ever to keep his mind and heart in peace and patience.”

The kitchener needed to be well instructed in the details of his office. He had to know, for example, how much food would be required for the allowances of the brethren, in order to know what and how much to buy, or to obtain from the other officials. He was to have what help he needed, and, besides the cooks, he had under him a trustworthy servant, sometimes called his emptor, or buyer, who was experienced in purchasing provisions, and knew how and at what seasons it were best to fill up the monastic store-houses. It was obviously of great importance, in order to prevent waste, that the kitchener should keep a strict account of what was expended in provisions and of what amounts were served out to the brethren. Each week he had to sum up the totals, and at the end of the month he had to present his accounts for examination to the superior, being prepared to explain why the cost of one week was greater than that of another, and in general to give an account of his administration.

As his name imported, the kitchener presided over the entire kitchen department. He was directed to see that all the utensils made use of were cleaned every day. He was to know the number of dishes required for each portion, and to furnish the cook with that number ; he was to see that food was never served to the community in broken dishes, and was to be particular that the bottoms of the dishes were clean before allowing them to leave his charge, so that they might not soil the napery on the refectory tables. Whilst any meal was being dished, he was to be present to prevent unnecessary noise and clatter, and he was to see that the cooks got the food ready in time, so that the brethren might never be kept waiting.

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

5 thoughts on “At the Tables of the Monks: The Kitchener

  1. Thanks for the great information! Where can I buy the book–English Monastic Life? I would like to have this book for my own private library. Thank-you for your help.

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