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Norway’s Medieval Monks Discussed Their Meals in Silence

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

OSLO, NORWAY—Science Norway reports that archaeologist Marianne Vedeler of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History and her colleagues have examined the dining practices of a group of twelfth-century English Cistercian monks who established a monastery on the island of Hovedøya, which is located off the coast of Oslo in the Oslofjord. “The rules were written down, so we know a lot about how these monks lived in the Middle Ages,” Vedeler said. The Christian monks sat side by side when eating, in order to avoid conversation, and developed a sign language to keep this rule of silence. Vedeler has analyzed food remains uncovered at the ruins of the monastery and found that the monks sustained themselves through fishing and growing fruits and vegetables. They also constructed a fish farm on the island where they kept freshwater fish. Seven species of fish, including squid, eel, and fast-swimming pike, had their own signs, added Kirk Ambrose of the University of Colorado Boulder, in addition to signs for other foods such as honey, beans and eggs. Cistercian monks continue to use some of the signs today, Ambrose concluded. To read about an unusual community of French Cistercian monks in the thirteenth century, go to "World Roundup: Ireland."

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