The Monks of Castleton
I've always been interested in monasticism. The Barony of Bryn Gwlad is fortunate to enjoy a lovely
site known as Castleton and it seemed like an ideal setting to explore some aspects of monastic life.
Medieval monks began their day after midnight with prayers.. These prayers were held again
at sunrise and then at three-hour intervals throughout the day. These times became known as
the canonical hours. I've never known anyone in the Society who observed the canonical hours,
so I organized this project to have this experience with others. We gathered together on
Saturday, May 31, 2008 at the Lysts at Castleton.
I started by asking some friends if they would like to participate. I then contacted the event steward
to let him know what I was hoping to do and make sure this would not compete with the schedule;
he was very supportive of our efforts.
The brothers provided their own monastic robes or borrowed them. The robes were shades of black,
white and brown, representing several orders. Each brother contributed their knowledge, props, and
Our brotherhood included
We decided to observe the hours by processing from a large tree on the other side
of the bridge (near the castle) down the road to the chapel at the other end.
MATINS - 3 am
We prepared for our first procession with candles which we lit by a vigil torch. A long time member
of the Society was deeply moved by this ritual and thanked me later. She described our project
as "experimental archeology". We processed in silence across the bridge and down the road to
the chapel; we discovered the challenges of walking with candles in the dark with a slight breeze.
PRIME - 6 am
We gathered again with the dawn's early light. The sun had not yet risen over the river bluffs.
This time we processed quietly with one of us carrying a string of brass bells. As with Matins,
almost no one saw our procession to the chapel.
TERCE - 9 am
This time we processed with incense. Brother Goldweard led with a censor of gloria incense
and I brought up the rear with a censor of pinon incense. The other brothers each carried
a stick of frankincense. We saw people on the road now.
NONE - 12 pm
At noon we processed to the chapel singing a simple chant in Latin. Whenever we gathered
at the chapel, we usually spoke quietly among ourselves for a few minutes. We did not pray
as a group though some felt quietly moved by our proceedings. The chapel is basically a
wooden platform with some small wooden benches and a small wooden podium. It has
no wall, no roof, and no religious icons.
SEXT - 3 pm
The event steward had asked us to process near the lyst field in the afternoon or early evening.
This time we processed while sprinkling water on the ground and on people we passed around
the field - while chanting phrases in Latin, French, Spanish, German, Swedish, English and
Klingon. This was a very lighthearted procession.
VESPERS - 6 pm
There was still sunlight on the water as we gathered in the twilight shade to process. This time
we processed with a combination of bells and incense. I followed with hands held palm to palm.
COMPLINE - We waited until court was finished, so our final procession was shortly after 9 pm.
It was difficult to keep the candles lit, so most of us used votives. When we arrived at the chapel,
Brother Charles sang a beautiful plainsong. As we were leaving the chapel, I heard a woman's voice
singing to us from the darkness.
People responded to our processions in many ways. Some people bowed,
others spoke friendly encouragements. Some shouted good-natured heckling
(it was hard for me not to smile). One gentleman greeted us in Latin.
Several people spoke to us in person between our processions.
These processions were designed to be sensory; they were purposefully non-dogmatic.
Candles for vision, bells for sound, incense for smell, water for feel. What words we used
were usually in Latin or some other language.
Throughout the day, we discussed many related topics:
What materials were used in monastic books?
How long has incense been used?
How did they keep track of time?
What were the main orders and what colors did they wear?
How long were their prayer services?
How could they rest and be productive with so many interruptions?
This project was possible because all of the brothers were committed to this experience.
I would also like to express my thanks to Sir Giotto, Lady Ysabeau, Lady Sigridr,
Lord kuroSH al-Din and everyone for their support, encouragement and photographs.
Myself as Witness,
Thomas of Tenby