Western European monastic communities began to develop into more formalized brick and stone architectural compounds during the reign of Charlemagne in the 800s. Monasteries, which function as a place of prayer and are inhabited by people separated from the secular world, are found in many religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. When the more hermetic form of individual Christian monasticism began to develop in the third century into a larger, more codified community of members, the monastery became an architectural entity as well as a way of life. Accordingly, monasteries began to develop into a complex of buildings suited to the needs of the community, to include churches or abbeys, dormitories, refectories, hospitals, and other such buildings that allowed for greater self-sufficiency. Although some monasteries became the center of urban communities, most were originally located in rural settings on large tracts of land cultivated by the community members. Many monasteries were surrounded by walls to more effectively partition the spiritual space of the monastery from the distractions of secular life. From the Order of Saint Benedict, established at the Monastery of Montecassino in Italy in 529, came the regulations followed by most subsequent monasteries across Europe. Both the Abbey of Saint Riquier at the Monastery of Centula, built in 799 and later destroyed but known today through early drawings and archaeological evidence, and the plan for the Benedictine monastery of Saint Gall, drawn around 817, reveal a logical and clear approach to monastic construction that recalls Ancient Roman urban planning. At Saint Gall, the monastic plan was drawn in a grid-like pattern with the abbey church located in the center of the rectangular site, while the remaining buildings are organized in a hierarchical yet highly functional group around the four quadrants of the plan. These buildings include the refectory, a brew house, a bake house, a hospital for the poor, a school, and a workroom for artisans, among other buildings. The plan is efficiently divided to allow public entrance to the guest house, hospital, and school, while the more private areas, such as the convent for novices, are located behind the church.
   Finally, the monastic community of the Cluny Abbey, established in 909, grew to become the best-endowed monastery in all of Europe by the 12th century. Although much of the monastery was later destroyed, its existing town house in Paris, built from 1485 to 1510, is one of the finest examples of late medieval urban civic architecture in France.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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