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For kids: What was life like for medieval monks?

J-P Mauro - published on 05/28/19

English Heritage's educational video series engages children in discussion.

For years, the popular Youtube channel English Heritage has treated their half a million subscribers to a range of video series which educate about the cultural and historical practices of the English people in the days of yore. Their topics cover everything from societal structure and architectural styles to the folklore and elements of warfare.

In 2017 they started a new video series called “What Was Life Like.” These videos take children, usually a boy and a girl, and bring them to historical sites where they are met by an actor dressed in historically accurate garb. The actor engages the children in conversation, often giving insightful answers to the kids’ questions.

In March, they released the above video, in which Emily and Sam traveled to Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire, to meet Abbot Aelred, a Cistercian Monk who was in charge of the abbey in its heyday in the 12th century, and today is remembered as Saint Aelred of Rievaulx.

“When sleep is sweetest we rise at the bidding of a bell. There is no moment for idleness or self indulgence. Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity and a marvelous freedom from the tumult of the world,” St. Aelred says to open the video.

St. Aelred captures the kids’ imaginations by dressing them in robes and hoods and then has a very genial conversation with the children, who ask all sorts of questions. St. Aelred explains his name in relation to the medieval world, even giving them a little bit of his familial history.

When asked what the purpose of a monk is, he explains: “When you become a monk, you leave the world behind — with all its riches, possessions, and family — and instead you come to an abbey and you devote your life to the glory of God.”

When asked what monks eat for breakfast, he explained the monks only had one meal a day around lunch time. He described the meal and then took the kids aside and prepared it with them. From the looks on their faces, it was not as tasty as the foods they were accustomed to.

Emily and Sam were both perplexed when they were told that there was a period of each day where the monks had to remain silent. St. Aelred explained that the monks had developed a rudimentary sign language, which the kids were able to pick up rather easily and to their great amusement.

The “What Was Life Like” series currently includes 10 episodes, which take children all over the English countryside to learn about things like cooking in a Tudor household, living as a Roman legionary, the responsibilities of stuarts, and much more. Visit their Youtube channel to see the whole series.

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