Saturday, May 9, 2009

Monastic Gardens

According to Katherine M. McClinton, "The idea of a church garden is an old one, and the first church gardens on record are those connected with monasteries. Early monastic gardens . . . contained orchards, fish ponds, dove houses, vineyards, and herb plots for medicine, as well as a sacristan's garden in which were raised flowers for the church. The abbot and the prior also had private gardens. Famous monastic gardens were to be seen at the Benedictine Monastery at Montecassino, Italy, and in the rose garden of St. Francis of Assisi. . . .

"The sacristan's garden usually had a fountain and a formal lay-out of paths with geometrical flower beds. Roses and lilies, the flowers most often associated with the Virgin, were always planted in these gardens. In addition to the fountain or pool, a cross or sundial was often found in the old cloister gardens, and plaques or statues spaced the ivy-grown walls." (1)

The elaborate sacristan's garden spoken of by McClinton was likely a product of the High or Late Middle Ages. The oldest extant plan for a monastery, designed during the Early Middle Ages, was drawn by Abbot Haito of Reichenau for Abbot Gozbert of Sankt Gallen. The monastery plan was never actually implemented.

On the northwest side of the plan near the top one can see garden beds. The named plants included roses and lilies as well as sage, rosemary and medicinal plants. This was the "physic garden".

The long structure just beneath the center on the design is the church. The semi-circular areas on either side are labeled "paradise", which identifies them as gardens. (2) Since they were adjacent to the church, they were probably intended for the sacristan's gardens. (3)


(1) McClinton, Katharine Morrison, Flower Arrangement in the Church (Morehouse Graham Co., New York, 1958), pp. 114-115.

(2) - here and here

(3) Rohde, Eleanor Sinclair, Garden-craft in the Bible (Ayer Publishing, 1927), p. 99. (Rohde describes a church where the "paradise" just outside was the sacristan's garden.)

A photograph of the actual plan, which was drawn on parchment, can be found in the Wikipedia entry, Plan of St. Gall.

Image: The Benedictine Monastery at Monte Cassino from Wikipedia

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