Arnold in snow

A monastery is a place that is home to a community of monks living under religious vows. Whilst such traditions have become much less popular and more unusual in modern day, monasteries can teach us so much about living a life of prayer and servitude. One such way that they can teach us, is in their architecture; their buildings. George Lings, director of Church Army’s Research Unit, has explored this in great detail and dubbed his findings to be ‘7 sacred spaces’. Today, I want to explore my reflections on these 7 spaces with you and look at why they are important!

The 7 sacred spaces come from 7 different, key areas within a monastery. They are: cell, chapel, chapter, cloister, garden, refectory and scriptorium. I believe these areas, and the values they each represent, explain the life of a Christian community – regardless of the kind of community you have.

The 7 Sacred Spaces

 

Cell:

The cell is our private space, most commonly a bedroom. It is the space we occupy daily, it’s familiar and private, free from other distractions. This is the place that we spend time alone with God, it’s where we develop our personal relationship with God, through spiritual disciplines such as prayer, reading the Bible, fasting. It’s important to note here that this is not the space for in-depth biblical study – this is a space to soak in God’s work, to reflect upon it and allow it to move us.

Chapel:

Chapel is perhaps the opposite of the cell. Where the cell is private, chapel is public. It is corporate and usually liturgical. It involves communal worship and collective prayer. For the majority of us, this is probably the church services we attend. It allows us to come together to worship God. It is structured (even if you have a very relaxed service, having a start time still provides structure of some kind), it is crafted and concise. For many, chapel becomes the be all and end all. But, whilst chapel is extremely important, it cannot be all we do.

Chapter:

The chapter was the place in which decisions were made. In monasteries, and in many churches today (from my experience), decisions are made in community. Such a decision-making process demands communication, disagreement, mutual respect for each other and humility. It also means that we must all be accountable to each other in the decisions we make.

Cloister:

The cloister is the walkways between each of the other areas of the monastery. Physically, this provided a covered route to get from one place to another without getting wet in the rain. More subtly, this provides a space to change your pace, to prepare yourself for where you’re going next, to relax, to meditate. It is also a place to walk and talk, and of unplanned meetings. You never know who you’re going to meet around the next corner.

Garden:

Garden’s are a place of provision, of self-sufficiency. It is often a hobby, good for the soul, body and mind; peaceful and creative. Our work in a garden is a service to our community. Most commonly nowadays, this work no longer happens in an actual garden, but it work that we do to serve our community – whether litter picking, taking food to the homeless, sweeping up after an event.

Refectory:

Possibly my favourite of the 7 sacred spaces, the refectory is where the food is prepared, served and eaten. It is a place of both work and rest. We serve each other through the preparation and serving of food. It centres around hospitality and nurtures community.

Scriptorium:

The scriptorium is a place of private study and learning, kind of like a learning. It is a place where we seek transformation and constantly want to find out more through study. It is also a place through which we can bless others with what we learn by creating ways for this knowledge to be passed on.

How do we use the 7 sacred spaces?

 

Blank spread set-up

If we see these 7 sacred spaces as key elements of a Christian community, we should be striving to include each aspect as much as possible and balancing them against each other. We can use these different elements to assess ourselves and our community (e.g. our church) to see how we compare.

Bar chart of each space

I decided to assess myself against each of these elements and created a spread in my bullet journal (read more about my bullet journal here) to illustrate this. After carefully going through each of the sacred spaces to understand them better I rated myself on a scale of 1-10 as to how well I feel I am embodying these areas. I purposefully gave myself low ratings as I believe we should always leave plenty of room for improvement.

I then took this one step further and set myself goals for each element – ways in which I would like to improve over the coming year.

Such goals could include:

Cell: keeping a prayer journal, fasting, spending more time in silence

Chapel: attending services if you don’t already, attending a prayer meeting

Chapter: have an accountability partner, confessing your sins to a friend

Cloister: intentionally take time to prepare for certain activities, talk to people you meet unexpectedly

Garden: provide a service for the community (e.g. litter picking)

Refectory: volunteer to serve teas and coffees after church, invite someone round for a meal

Scriptorium: write a book, complete a devotional, attend a course

7 sacred spaces spread

Over the next year I hope to keep coming back to this spread and continually develop the way in which I portray the different values set out by the 7 sacred spaces.

How do you think you portray the 7 sacred spaces? How could you improve? 

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1 Comment

  1. I loved this post! It was well thought out & I believe you are correct that we must be developing in all 7 areas of our Christian life. Thank you for your research & practcal applications of this concept.

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