Pre-municipal cities, four typologies: Part 3f, The abbeys’ overreach and their destruction

July 14, 2016 | Abbeys, castles, cathedrals, Cities, Employer-assisted, Finance, History, Housing, Infrastructure, New Lanark, Roman Empire, Scotland, Speculation, Theory, Trimontium, Workforce housing | No comments 118 views

[Continued from the previous Part 3e and the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3a, Part 3b, Part 3c, and Part 3d.]


By: David A. Smith


By now, to my astonishment and quite possibly yours, the exposition of the third pre-municipal typology of urbanization – the abbey campus headquartered by an abbey or cathedral church – has reached its fifth installment (and like the Middle Ages, it seems to be hanging around well beyond its expected useful life, while the fourth typology taps its toes in the temporary file cache). 


Fortunately, like the Middle Ages themselves, what came before sowed the seeds of its own demise, for all good blog posts must eventually end, and the abbeys’ dependency on donor-funded grant capitalization for serially funded campus expansion – the model used by most established universities, though not the new upstarts – positioned them for such immense economic success they became a takeover target.


The abbeys’ over-reach and their destruction


Though any institution that lasted effectively for five centuries deserves more praise than snark, in a blog post snark there must be –



‘You must know’ – said the judge’ but the Snark exclaimed ‘Fudge!’


– and over that half a millennium the abbeys imperceptibly changed.  Founded as the isolated outposts of civilization amid the painted heathens, they became of commercial and intellectual activity, usually surrounded by towns that had grown up around or alongside their campus, spinning off secular business from the innovations the abbeys created, imported, or scaled.


As they did, the abbeys also shifted from being predominantly spiritual entities selling salvation as a byproduct of faith to diversified secular operating businesses providing products and services throughout the community.



Fountains Abbey, with its extension economic additions:

The Abbot’s House, its Great Hall, and support buildings


Agriculture led to viticulture which led to the invention of brandy:



I’m doing this solely because it’s my job


[The apex of monastic viticulture was champagne, invented by a monk, Dom Perignon. – Ed.]



Yes, but this was long after the Counter-Reformation …


As monopolies are prone to do, complacency set in; instead of sleeping in the same dorter as everyone else, abbots began building their own houses on the campus.



The abbot’s house, New Abbey



Jedburgh Abbey, with the (excavated and renovated) Abbot’s Lodging, foreground, now the visitor center


After all, as the ultimate non-profit, the church should raise as much wealth as it can, for the salvation of the faithful and the greater glory of God – and if some of the money raised went into expanding the church, improving the cloister or the outbuildings, or even making the abbot’s lodgings more suitable to receiving merchants and nobles – that was all part of the never-ending capital campaign. 



It just keeps gushing


(Note the curious morally insidious way that a donor-funded model of capital expansion undermines the mission purpose; since the only way to build the campus is through grants, one must always be fundraising.  Fundraising becomes a purpose that comes to be seen as coequal with the mission, because without the fundraising, where would the mission be?

(Does this sound like any universities you know?)



Trust us, we’ll put it all to good use


Similarly, the role of the abbot as the abbey’s most important person gave way to a second chair – a prime minister to the king, as it were.  In fact the commendator (the lay administrator) was a combination of the owner’s representative and the Office of Inspector General, living and working on-site at the monastery, keeping an eye on the accounts and making sure that the abbey’s equivalent of UBTI (Unrelated Business Taxable Income) was remitted to the king.



Argyll’s Lodging in Stirling, sold to the Earl of Argyll by a commendator in 1559


Meanwhile, with the dominant monopoly came the short-cut knockoff products.  Why have monks praying hour after hour, when it can be much more economical (and therefore more profitable) to offer not salvation itself but reduction of penance requirements via indulgences:


indulgence is “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins which may reduce either or both of (1) the penance required after a sin has been forgiven, or (2) the temporal punishment after death (called Purgatory).


Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the monasteries and church could raise only so much from appeals to faith, indulgences became the spiritual equivalent of paper money: they could be mass produced, sold in whatever denominations the market would bear, and even in some cases wholesaled. 


(On our vacation, I recall seeing, possibly in Mary Queen of Scots’ house in Jedburgh, an indulgence made out in favor of the local laird, for him to fill in the names of up to thirty people at his discretion.  Shades of the Letters of Transit!)



You can fill in any other names you like, Rick


Having a license to print money (or its equivalent in sacred bearer bonds) was beneficial to the monasteries, and equally beneficial to the king, so the aims of Church and state found ready alignment:


With the permission of the Church, indulgences also became a way for Catholic rulers to fund expensive projects, such as Crusades and cathedrals, by keeping a significant portion of the money raised from indulgences in their lands. 


At the same time, and perhaps for the first time in human history, the indulgence market experienced the common risks of paper money – counterfeiting and hyperinflation:


There was a tendency to forge documents declaring that indulgences had been granted.  Indulgences grew to extraordinary magnitude, in terms of longevity and breadth of forgiveness.


How many Zimbabwe dollars can dance on the face of a bank note?


By the late Middle Ages, the abuse of indulgences, mainly through commercialization, had become a serious problem which the Church recognized but was unable to restrain effectively.


‘Unable to’?  Or were indulgences, like congressional earmarks, an invention for patronage that many might decry but none were willing to foreswear?



A Question to a Mintmaker, woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder of Augsburg, circa 1530, presenting the Pope and [A] indulgences as one of three causes of inflation, the others being [B] minting of debased coinage and [C] cheating by merchants.


Indulgences were from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation a target of attacks by Martin Luther and all other Protestant theologians.


In business-model terms, indulgences not only set off runaway inflation, in so doing they severely cheapened the brand.  That, in turn, called into question the entire copyright protection, a dissatisfaction given voice through a new disruptive social medium.  The printing press enabled a blogger like Martin Luther could cut out the publishers and get his message directly to the customers.



Business-model disruption courtesy of technological and financial disruption


At the same time communication was being revolutionized, so too was finance.  Capitalization of enterprises no longer depended purely on grant funding or taxation: the voyages of discovery were creating new forms of capital aggregation, including limited partnerships, and commercial banking had been invented in the 1450s, giving rise to new forms of urbanized living: the city-state.  As all this continued, the rise of the nation-state – like Tudor England and Capetian France – rendered the abbey’s invisible shield against assault less valuable.  Now the sovereign did that, and the sovereign felt the crown, not the abbey, should be getting the revenue:


The desire to dissolve religious houses and appropriate their endowments for the use of the state was normally a policy demanded by secular authorities rather than the reformers themselves.


Within half a century, the Catholic Church lost its copyright protection, and with that, it lost its brands identify as the sole road to salvation.  The muckraking journalism of Luther and his ilk such as Scotland’s John Knox broke the church’s monopoly moral superiority – and rendered them tempting targets for acquisitive kings like Henry VIII:


In 1535 the Valor Ecclesiasticus was introduced by Thomas Cromwell. This was a comprehensive survey to ascertain how much property was owned by the Church in England and Wales. As well as assessing wealth, hand-picked commissioners enquired about the quality of religious life being maintained, assessed any superstitious religious observances such as the veneration of relics and looked for evidence of moral laxity.


Making money, deviating from the mission – sounds like the City of Boston trying to cancel a non-profit’s 501c3 exemption or its tax abatement.



Render unto Menino the taxes that are Menino’s?


The commissioners were also instructing establishments to strictly enforce the practice of common dining and cloistered living,


In 1535, Henry VIII nationalized the monasteries, and those that refused nationalization, his soldiers demolished.



Glastonbury Abbey before the dissolution


Thus endeth the abbey’ era of pre-municipal urbanization. 



And after Henry’s soldiers got through with it


And with its end, comes a lesson for modern day.


A cautionary tale

Imagine a campus that is:


·         A place-based center of moral education. 

·         Built from a founder’s vision. 

·         Selling an intangible product (say, education) with a brand-protected intellectual product.

·         Positioning itself out as the arbiter of morality.

·         Exempt from sovereign taxation.

·         Funded by gifts from grateful customers and those signaling their virtue. 

·         As a result, much richer than its neighbors. 


Wouldn’t it behoove such institution to stay on the right side of government?



Don’t lose your mission, lest you lose your tax exemption


The pre-municipal city, Type 3: The abbey


·         Products or services.  (1) Salvation.  (2) Moral comfort.  (3) Structured employment.  (4) Library/ archive. 

·         Higher level of authority.  God.  Hard to beat that.

·         Value proposition.  Come with us for eternal life; spurn us for eternal damnation and endless pain.

·         Revenue model.  (1) Gifts, tithes, and offerings.  (2) Fee-for-service (inter-cessionary prayer).  (3) Get-out-of-hell-free cards (indulgences.

·         Natural features selected for.  (1) Unclaimed but arable land.  (2) A steadily flowing stream (water source and drainage). 

·         Housing typology.  Campus-style layout.  Workforce dormitories divided into senior management (abbot’s lodging), management (monk’s dorter), and labor (lay brothers’ dorter).  

·         Household type.  ‘Geographical bachelors’: management and workers.  (While there were convents of nuns, men-only monasteries dominated.)

·         ‘Anchor tenant’ major capital asset.  The cathedral, whose building usually took decades.

·         Franchise models.  The Rule of Saint Benedict, a comprehensive code of conduct, principally as propagated through the Cistercian monasteries, particularly their monastic layout.

·         Modern echoes.  (1) Universities with dormitories (the product is a diploma).  (2) Hospital complexes. 


[Continued in Part 4]

Pre-municipal cities, four typologies: Part 3e, The abbeys’ symbiotic aggrandizement

July 13, 2016 | Abbeys, castles, cathedrals, Cities, Employer-assisted, Finance, History, Housing, Infrastructure, New Lanark, Roman Empire, Scotland, Speculation, Theory, Trimontium, Workforce housing | No comments 96 views

 [Continued from the previous Part 3d and the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3a, Part 3b, and Part 3c.]


By: David A. Smith


As we’ve seen in the four earlier segments of Part 3 of this expanding post on the four typologies of pre-municipal urban society, the abbeys (monasteries) and their eventual urban supersession the cathedral town were the first urban form to create a business model around intellectual property (Catholic doctrine), intangible products (salvation in the next life, or more properly the promise of salvation, and a grant-funded service unit (monks at prayer):


We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.



“To build the brand, we need to enforce message discipline

Italian drawing, ~825 AD, Constantine directing burning of heretical texts after the Council of Nicaea


For the abbeys, the church, cloister, and abbey campus were visible, the stream of major capital gifts and land revenues were invisible.


2. Unlike their predecessor municipal forms, abbeys spent nothing on security and defense


As far as I can tell, the earliest reason for cities was the most basic of the homeownership attributes – physical security of loved ones and possessions.  Certainly security was the organizing principle behind the Roman fort (a territory presumed to be under hostile control) and the medieval castle (a territory presumed vulnerable to raid, plunder, or invasion at any time).  But the abbey, itself manufacturing predominantly intangible product supported by a universal copy-protection system, opted for a defense strategy so brilliant that its thousand-year monopoly enabled both the campus locations and the institution itself to become exceedingly rich.


(We forget just how impoverishing was the cost of maintaining war readiness capacity, and how close to the bone most people lived.)


Not having to spend on fortifications was for the abbeys and cathedrals an immense advantage, and in fact they doubled down on their savings because not only did they not have to pay taxes to the liege lord, they were more likely to extract gifts and donations.  In addition, the structures themselves could be built as lightly as physically possible.



The delicacy of its ribbing …



… enabled Sainte Chapelle in Paris to be the world of the world


As evidence that the monopoly of faith was the invisible shield, I give you the Palais des Papes at Avignon, where during the Great Western Schism lived one of the two dueling Popes (the other remained camped out in Rome). 



A religious map that prefigures later political maps


In that period, the church needed to be fortified:



A frontage with more in common with castles than churches



You could be forgiven for thinking this a castle first, a cathedral second


Something similar happened a hundred years later, during the French Wars of Religion, when even parish churches fortified themselves against marauders from the other half of Christianity.



The nine-foot walls of st. Amand de Coly



3. Diversifying their income stream, abbey communities ran sustainable farms and vineyards




Though as we saw earlier the abbey’s breakthrough revenue model was the purely intangible product of salvation, the necessity for growing their own food, coupled with the monks’ advantages of learning and literacy, made them naturals to be leaders of biodynamic agriculture.  This they justified further as part of their program of charitable works, and it became part of their diversified product line:


Shortly after the fire of 1146, the monks [of Fountains Abbey] had established granges at Sutton, Cayton, Cowton Moor, Warsill, Dacre and Aldburgh, all within 6 mi (10 km) of Fountains.


While I won’t read too much into the fragmentary history, the monks’ activities sound highly entrepreneurial in the urban sense: not simply buying and selling things, nor even individual artisanal manufacture, but systemically developing business infrastructure through a plant and equipment (the mill, its mill wheel and sluices, its mill pond as water supply reservoir):



Pond, sluices, valves, and pond-raised eels as delicacy


In the 1140s the water mill was built on the abbey site making it possible for the grain from the granges to be brought to the abbey for milling. 



Still there nearly 875 years later (with continuous maintenance): the mill at Fountains Abbey



4. Abbeys operated as large consolidating land owners


They used portfolio rationalization and land swaps:


After 1203 the abbots consolidated the abbey’s lands by renting out more distant areas that the monks could not easily farm themselves, and exchanging and purchasing lands that complemented their existing estates. Fountains’ holdings both in Yorkshire and beyond had reached their maximum extent by 1265, when they were an efficient and very profitable estate.


Endowments of land, a monopolistic intellectual product that everyone wanted and many would pay handsomely for, a built environment that was created (however slowly) with no debt, urbanized centers of learning and literacy, an accreting and periodically rationalized land portfolio, and diversified value-additive income streams. 


Their estates were linked in a network of individual granges which provided staging posts to the most distant ones. They had urban properties in York, Yarm, Grimsby, Scarborough and Boston from which to conduct export and market trading.


As the monasteries were also Europe’s libraries, they heard about every innovation first, and they had the safe platform to experiment to new businesses based on new technologies:


Their other commercial interests included mining, quarrying, iron-smelting, fishing and milling. 


5. From the beginning, abbeys had a symbiotic relationship with feudal lords


The abbey’s ability to operate as a pre-municipal urban form without strong walls and its own standing defense force depended on two things: (a) the virtual monopoly of Catholicism in Europe, and (b) the presence of a local lord (count, earl, duke, prince or even king) who both (i) provided the biggest grants (of land and money) to create the abbey campus and (ii) could be counted upon to take up arms against the Church’s enemies, so long as these could be deemed to coincide with his own enemies – say, in claiming the throne of France:



O, let their bodies follow, my dear liege,
With blood and sword and fire to win your right;
In aid whereof we of the spiritualty
Will raise your highness such a mighty sum
As never did the clergy at one time
Bring in to any of your ancestors.



God is with the big donations


Add to that the abbeys’ propensity for being both communications hubs and as a result technological innovation centers, and they were very useful indeed to the lord or monarch who wanted to solidify his own position. 


No wonder that the abbeys produced the era’s MBAs, in the form of archbishops and cardinals ready to serve a monarch who was (or acted as if it was) suitably pious: Wolsey, Cranmer, Richelieu, Mazarin,



Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s Catholic almoner



Thomas Cranmer, Henry VII’s Protestant prime minister


These administrative clergymen moved between God and government in a manner not unlike the rotational cycle of Harvard professors flying south to Washington when the winds are favorable, returning north when they are not.


THE TUDORS - Season 3
Except for the execution part, that is

(Today they’re just thrown under the Twitter bus)



6. Abbey-led urbanization sparked wealth generation, much of which the abbeys captured


With all that going for them, it’s no wonder that what had begun two or three centuries earlier as houses of poverty had by the 1300s become not only universal but also successful and increasingly rich.



In his world, the Reformation never happened


I’ve written many times elsewhere that cities are engines of wealth creation: people as a whole may live in the country, they may even have a comfortable farming existence, but in the countryside people do not become wealthy.  (Kings and tyrants are a special case – they accumulate money only by forcibly impoverishing their subjects.)


Before the urban city-state was (re)invented during the Renaissance, the abbeys had shown them how to urbanize, first in the rural setting (monastery) and then in an urban or fortified one (the walled cathedral town).


So successful were the monasteries at incubating the pre-Renaissance form of city that in their success they lost the thread of their purpose, and in losing that thread, set themselves up for a disruptive event that ended in their destruction as urban communities.


[Continued tomorrow in Part 3f.]

Pre-municipal cities, four typologies: Part 3d, The abbey’s development/ construction model

July 12, 2016 | Abbeys, castles, cathedrals, Cities, Employer-assisted, Finance, History, Housing, Infrastructure, New Lanark, Roman Empire, Scotland, Speculation, Theory, Trimontium, Workforce housing | No comments 115 views

[Continued from the previous Part 3c and the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3a, and Part 3b.]


By: David A. Smith


When starting this post far too many days ago (sorry about that), I had no expectation of spending so many words on the great abbeys as a principal form of pre-municipal urban living.  Yet, with hindsight (always better focused) it makes eminent sense, because while the Roman fort and the medieval castle were urbanized, they were wealth-importing places that depended on external subsidy – Roman gold for the soldiers, and countywide taxes for the medieval lord and his household – and in both cases, the principal product offered by the urban enclave was physical security.



The mill built at Fountains Abbey


The abbeys, by contrast, were envisioned, designed, and operated as wealth-exporting locales, using intellectual products (prayer) to produce intangible outcomes (salvation) as well as to create value-additive industries (mills, schools, hospitals) that depended on intellectual assets. 



The bigger the city, the more people you want in your cathedral


Because of this, as we saw yesterday, the abbeys were operationally sound, built like other campus-based institutions that produce high-value intellectual product (universities, hospitals), they had a high capital investment required.  In modern times, such a proposition would be funded with long-term debt finance, but in banking had not really been invented yet (it was a creation of the Italian Renaissance, whose oldest bank has so far lasted 544 years, though it’s teetering), so the abbey has to be built with a series of major capital grants, and that dictated the building sequence.



A network in competitive collaboration


Step 2: Build outward from the high-revenue to low-revenue elements


The abbey was founded by spiritually ambitious monks (some sent by their abbot, others founding a breakaway community) on a vision of the kingdom of heaven on earth.  Those believers were willing to camp out for months at a time, but they also had to fundraise from inception.  The contained community they sought to build would require not just self-building techniques, scavenged materials, and donated labor, but also products and services that cost money.


Yet while vision might inspire the monks, it will not open secular purses no matter how pious. 



No guarantee of completion, or that you’ll be alive when it is complete


To demonstrate credibility in delivery, the monks built the church in the manner of developers everywhere: highest-value/ fastest-payback components first, middle-income structures second, and operational upgrades last.



Get those chapels and crypts operational as fast as possible!


That’s why so many abbey cathedrals show different architectural styles – their construction was by fits and starts, and in between construction intervals change arose in both architectural styles (likely the medieval times had their own starchitects) and patron/ abbot tastes.



A design change order halfway through: Romanesque arches (yellow arrow) gave way to Gothic (gray)


 [Sidebar: The same phenomenon is visible in our own Washington Monument, whose construction halted for several years – the Civil War intervened – and upon resumption a different stone was used. – Ed.]



The Washington Monument, 1860, when construction stopped



The base was Texas marble, the thin sandwich Sheffield marble, the top Cockeysville marble


Step 3: Recruit top expert professionals


Though I have no evidence to support this speculation, the era of abbeys may have been the dawn of professionalizing architecture and engineering, because although the building principles were the same from abbey to abbey, they were all in competition to be the grandest, largest, longest, tallest, and lacking rebar or steel, the stacking of blocks required first buttresses and then flying buttresses:



Visualize the apex first and work outward and downward


Likewise, semicircular Roman arches gave way to pointed Gothic arches which better distributed the roof weight:



It took a century to figure this out


That allowed a larger, taller interior space:



For this, you’ll need scaffolding


The design and engineering of a cathedral was in the hands of a master mason (today’s design and supervisory architect), who had specialized knowledge and skill



You’ll need a good compass for this


These were sought-after gentlemen, because the costs of a badly designed cathedral were enormous – in people, time, prestige and money.



The king confers with his master mason


Working underneath the master mason was a small or even mid-sized army of workers.  At the apex were the stone carves, sculptors in sandstone; then the stone cutters for structural elements such as the column or arch standardized pieces akin to Lego bricks or tinker toys.



Some cut, some carry


Like many another major infrastructure project, the abbey cathedral – spiritual infrastructure, without which in the catholic doctrine one could not reach God – was a large public works project that employed whole towns’ worth of workers. 



Lots of people and lots of wooden machinery


To fund and keep it going, the big initial grant was not enough; supplementary funding was always needed, and for that the abbey’s or cathedral’s designers used a fundraising model as old as the pyramids and as modern as a scoreboard: naming rights.


Step 4: Sell naming rights to parts of the campus



All those dates, all those chapels


The first monastic abbeys were simple, but over the centuries as the abbey migrated from isolated rural community to anchor of a city (the ‘cathedral town’ model), the design became progressively more ornate, with a fractalized interior of aisles, ambulatory, tombs, and chapels – all of which could be named (preferably after the donor’s patron saint, possibly with a portrait of the donor and wife kneeling before the saint)



By the late Medieval period every surface was spoken for


The same festooning of advertising invariably overtakes any large public structure:



Fenway’s Green Monster, 1950



The same monster in 2006, with its advertising tattoos


Within the context of abbeys, hospitals, and universities, naming a physical structure has for millennia been recognized as advertising one’s virtues.




Step 5: Fill out the congregate with the larger-scale lower-cost expansion space (the nave)


After the high altar was built, the presbytery and chancel dedicated, the apsidal chapels named and funded, the transept vaulting in place and the rood screens established, by then it was time to build out the rest of the cathedral, where the common folk could worship – the nave.



In a couple of centuries, we’ll add your western part of the church


In the tradition of real estate development since time immemorial, those in the nave were farthest from the altar, farthest from the choir, farthest from the mystical light streaming through the stained glass windows.


But they were in God’s house, and though founded in the spirit of sacrifice and prayer, over the centuries the monasteries and cathedrals evolved, as all large institutions unconsciously evolve, from their original sacred purpose to the more profane business of generating increasing and sustainable revenue and using it to expand the administration and accompanying administrative perquisites.


[Continued tomorrow in Part 3e.]

Pre-municipal cities, four typologies: Part 3c, The abbeys’ capitalization model

July 11, 2016 | Abbeys, castles, Cities, Employer-assisted, History, Housing, Infrastructure, New Lanark, Roman Empire, Scotland, Speculation, Theory, Trimontium, Workforce housing | No comments 90 views

[Continued from yesterday’s Part 3b and the preceding Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3a.]


By: David A. Smith


As we saw yesterday in Part 3b, beyond the abbey’s revenue core – factory (of salvation), executive offices (chapter house/ parlour), and workers’ quarters (dormitory) – it also needed to provide a campus for operations and maintenance, carried out mainly by the lay brothers:



All work is equal, but only some of us can read and write


E. The abbey’s blue-collar live-work space was similarly structured, parallel to the administrative officer and management dormitory but on the cloister’s west side.  The lay brothers slept above; the cellars for provisions were below, in handy reach of the lay brothers.


Placing the lay brothers to the west further allowed the abbey to be supplied directly from the outside, and also made it easier to segregate the lay brothers from the campus’s sacred areas (church and monks’ quarters) because they could be restricted to the abbey’s west and south sides.



Three squares, six prayers a day, and a bed:

Medieval dormitory restored to original layout Valle Crucis


Without turning this post into a tract, it is possible to observe that the medieval record undercounts the contributions of lay brothers – naturally enough as they were illiterate and could neither write their own history nor read what was being written about them.  Then too, lay brothers were in no way indentured, and they were provided with a structured existence, food to eat and a safe place to sleep, free state-of-the-epoch health care (better than available in the village or at the castle), plus the ongoing promise of salvation in the next life (a free subscription to the copyrighted prayer model, as it were).  Nor could the lay brothers raise the money to pay the wages of those who built the church. 


F. The abbey’s operating systems were clustered along the south side: on the ground floor the kitchen (close to the cellars), the lavatory (for washing up before or after a meal), and employees’ lounge (the warming room, so called because it was the only place within the monastery that a healthy monk could be warmed, because a fire was allowed.  Laid above it, similar to the lay brothers’ dorter and the monks’ dorter, was the dining hall, the refectory, in which it was customary for a monk to read from the Rule or the Bible during meals.



What do you mean, he wants ‘gluten free’?


G. The abbey delivered sanitation and health care.  Mo campus can be complete without its attentions to employees’ and customers’ health, so the monastery would always have a sanitation complex – and this being the thirteenth century, evacuation and illness were set a distance away from the main campus, the better to reduce disease and contagion, with these buildings.



And it goes out there …


G1. Reredorter or necessarium.  The communal latrine, usually with a row of pit holes that dumped into the river, always downstream from everything else.



Time for your moment of personal spirituality


G2. The hospital (infirmary hall).  In addition to selling spirituality and faith, the monks were able to maintain a brantd of wisdom and compassion, useful traits for running a hospital: provide the herbs that will make you better, pray for your soul if not. 



Cistercian monk giving Communion to a dying man


G3. The recovery room (misericord, meaning ‘mercy relief).  When monks or patrons were in recovery, they were moved to the misericord, where fire was permitted, it being thought helpful in patient recovery.



Don’t ask what’s in it, just eat it


G4. The infirmary chapel.  Because even the sick need prayer – indeed, they often need it more than the healthy do.


For lay brothers, lack of superior alternatives makes it entirely plausible that this was an excellent economic transaction for a thirteenth-century peasant … but that value proposition depended on several factors:


1.     The universal belief in the afterlife to be earned through good works (including prayer, alms, and tithes).

2.     The monopoly on salvation maintained by the Catholic Church and its hierarchy of priests, monks, and higher ranks (abbots, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the Pope himself).

3.     The insecurity of daily life, including the unreliability of medieval lords to provide protection from marauders.

4.     Illiteracy among the general population, which both protected dogma and much more importantly curtailed entrepreneurial and professional employment for the peasantry. 


While eventually these conditions dissipated, they endured for several centuries, during which time the abbeys represented the only unfortified alternative to enclave of castles.


Each time the Boss and I tour a monastery, we are struck again at how their layout was well suited to their integrated purpose, how efficiently the site and structures used. 


Of course, we are seeing only the mature form (or its remains), and it’s taken me years of reading signboards to understand the development and financing model.


The abbeys’ capitalization model


Most abbeys took many decades to build – a few took centuries – and while it might seem this was due to physical constraints (lack of materials), far more often it was an economic necessity, the solution to which dictated not only the abbeys’ physical development but also the inadvertent consequence of an equity-based capitalization method.


1. Lacking long-term finance, abbeys were financed on major gifts


So used are we to the availability of long-term debt for capital improvements – home purchase, home upgrading, or the expansion of a theological campus by selling air rights – that we forget that this is a very new invention dating (as far as I know) from the early nineteenth century, when (for example) New York City invented municipal finance to pay for the expanded water system in Manhattan.


Debt instruments, after all, depend not only on a stable currency but even more fundamentally on the ability directly to enforce the contracts and indirectly to bind the sovereign (since they were among the first large-scale borrowers, with Felipe II twice going bankrupt, in 1557 and 1596) so it’s little wonder that long-term financial banking could not exist in the medieval period, where only the clergy (souls and excommunication) and the nobility (castles and weapons) had any ability to enforce payment of debts and only came into being in the Italian Renaissance (and that as a recapitalization, so the world’s first bank was a ‘bad bank’!).


Without long-term debt, large-scale capital investment could be made only in three ways: plunder (always a popular short-term strategy, including among the Scottish), extortion (protection money presented as ‘taxes’), and major philanthropy.  Of these, for moral and practical reasons, the abbey monks could choose only the third – which made them history’s first capital campaigners, as illustrated by the (excerpted, Wikipedia) story of Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire:



By now you can find the lay brothers’ dormitory (bottom), reredorter and infirmary (downstream)


Step 1: Secure the initial land grants


First you need the campus itself:


When Archbishop Thurstan founded the abbey he gave the community 260 acres (110 ha) of land at Sutton north of the abbey and 200 acres (81 ha) at Herleshowe to provide support while the abbey became established.


Then you need the agricultural and cash flow source:


Medieval monasteries were sustained by landed estates that were given to them as endowments and from which they derived an income from rents.  They were the gifts of the founder and subsequent patrons –


[Sidebar: Once one has established a campus, it’s often wise to reinvest in building the endowment and its income. – Ed.]


– but some were purchased from cash revenues.


At the outset, the Cistercian order rejected gifts of mills and rents, churches with tithes and feudal manors as they did not accord with their belief in monastic purity, because they involved contact with laymen.


At some point, principle gave way to practicality: while rejection of worldly gifts made for an ascetic and scholarly life, it didn’t build the campus, so over time the monks’ and abbots’ practices caught up with the endowment possibilities:


In the early years the abbey struggled to maintain itself because further gifts were not forthcoming.  After a few years of impoverished struggle to establish the abbey, the monks were joined by Hugh, a former dean of York Minster, a rich man who brought a considerable fortune as well as furniture and books to start the library.


Consider Hugh’s gift a spiritual EB-5. 


056 EB5 se FINAL.indd

Stamped your passport to heaven?



By 1135 the monks had acquired only another 260 acres (110 ha) at Cayton, given by Eustace fitzJohn of Knaresborough “for the building of the abbey”.


Further estates were assembled in two phases, between 1140 and 1160 then 1174 and 1175, from piecemeal acquisitions of land. Some of the lands were grants from benefactors but others were purchased from gifts of money to the abbey.


All this had to be sold on a vision, not just of the Kingdom of Heaven but also of God’s temple here on earth:



Trust us, when it’s built it’ll look like this


And that led to the abbey’s construction sequence:


[Continued tomorrow in Part 3d.]

Pre-municipal cities, four typologies: Part 3b, The abbey and its physical form

June 28, 2016 | Abbeys, castles, Cities, Employer-assisted, History, Housing, Infrastructure, New Lanark, Roman Empire, Scotland, Speculation, Theory, Trimontium, Workforce housing | No comments 128 views

 [Continued from yesterday’s Part 3a and the preceding Part 1 and Part 2]


By: David A. Smith


[Note to readers: Still catching up, a process momentarily suspended by a jaunt to Ohio, California, and back, but I intend to resume regular publishing rates as soon as possible!   – Ed.]


As we saw in the earlier Part 3a of this multi-part post covering pre-municipal cities (in Europe at any rate; Asian or Indian paradigms might have been different), after the Roman fort (new town as order-establishing outpost of a larger government) and the medieval castle (fortified town as quasi-autonomous set of nested rings of defensible space with power emanating from the center) there then emerged a form whose business model was quite different:



To keep people following the rules, we’ll need many copies of the rules


Christian abbeys: Urban viability propositions


With their marketing materials emphasized spirituality and downplayed any mention of practical economics, in their fundamentals abbeys pioneered both the intellectual-property revenue model and the network effect value of a strong brand:


1. Abbeys propagated via franchise networks.  Founding monasteries developed a conscious strategy of networked expansion, using a do-it-yourself city establishment blueprint (metaphorically speaking, that is) like that of the Romans with their forts.


2. Abbeys were self-financed on a vision.  Capital to build the abbey/ monastery came in the form of philanthropic grants (either of labor or materials) through a combination of founding monks, their converted lay brothers, and local lords buying futures in the abbeys’ eventual output.


3. The abbeys’ main product was salvation.  Abbeys positioned themselves as being the factory of salvation’s building blocks, while at the same time reinforcing that everyone needed spiritual shelter because the alternative (eternal damnation) was very bad.  As intellectual property goes, that’s hard to top.



It’s too late for prayers, alms, and offerings, so we’ll beat you down into hell


4. The abbeys’ revenue model was subscription-based fee-for-service.  Once the customer signed up for the ultimate service, continuing subscription was necessary to maintain spiritual coverage.


In this, abbeys pioneered the associative-collective model that would later reappear during the Enlightenment as idealized colonies (such as Plymouth or Philadelphia), as well as the reverse-annuity model that would arise with life insurance (and, to a lesser extent, with the home mortgage and equity buildup/ property appreciation.



Live, pray, work: the twelfth-century formula for happiness


As a revenue model, the abbey was a brilliant invention – the earliest example that comes to mind of purely intellectual product being effectively copyrighted and that copyright monetized into a chain of franchises each of which could with sufficient patience be self-capitalizing and self-sustaining.


But this revenue and sustainability model could not have worked without a physical form that both expressed and supported its campus, and that was purpose-designed to optimize that revenue model.


The abbeys’ campus model


1. Abbeys were designed to be self-sufficient. Like Roman forts (and unlike medieval castles), abbeys were designed for establishment in an empty or hostile territory, which meant that not only were they new construction developments, they also could count on no in-place infrastructure.  Thus the abbey was designed to develop its own complete environment with site infrastructure: work, sleep, cooking, and water/ sanitation all had to be site-based and reliably at hand because any service interruption spelled trouble.



The canonical rural occupation


[Only with the invention of large-scale public-utility infrastructure networks did housing move away from self-contained independence into interdependence with the outside economy.  While I haven’t researched it, instinctively I connect this with moving from ground-floor to multi-story living, because needless to say it’s difficult to farm or keep livestock in floored indoor spaces. – Ed.]



Animals on the ground (hence, ‘ground floor’), humans lofts above


Hence, as with the other two pre-municipal towns, they had to be located where water was plentifully and continuously available: in streams for the Romans, in deeply dug wells for the castle, and for the abbeys, like the Romans, via streams or rivers.


Temporarily used for contact details: The Engine House, Fire Fly Avenue, Swindon, SN2 2EH, United Kingdom, Tel: 01793 414600, Email:, Website:

Rievaulx (Rivers) Abbey in its dell, looking west in mid-morning


With this the monks could set up a primitive agricultural model, but of course agriculture has always been rural; it required little more than a village for basic trading, and many a family built their own self-sufficient woodland homestead. 


2. Abbeys were designed as mixed-use campuses. Even with the natural advantage of water, an abbey could not function by bread alone, it needed ongoing cash flow.  For that, it would need the revenue model described in Part 3a – subscription-based salvation, the post-life insurance policy – and for that, the abbey need to be a mixed-use campus.  The layouts were masterpieces of efficient use mixing, as illustrated by this plan of Beaulieu Abbey, a Cistercian abbey founded in 1203:




Consider it the twelfth-century combination of hospital, university, and casino of salvation:


A. The service center.  The core of any abbey was its cathedral church, whose layout maximized not only the experience but also the capital-raising possibilities:


A1. Experience.  Churches always oriented east, the better to capture strong morning light to illuminate stained glass windows and create the divine experience, an IMAX of the soul.



Hard to doubt divinity with this masterwork blazing before you


A2. Capital raising venues.  Just as hospitals and universities maximize the number of structures which can be named for major donors, cathedrals were liberally provided with chapels above and around the presbytery and high altar.  Nearly all of these were subscribed by a patron, used by that family for private devotion, and suitably endowed.


Hereford Cathedral, Richard Pembridge tomb

We can accommodate you in the cathedral, but it’ll cost you


The chapels’ corollary was the crypt, always located under the presbytery and for the same purpose: Your late uncle died without extreme unction, without having confessed?  You have a chance to redeem him through his entombment here in the church above which monks will be praying every day.


A3. Service and price differentiation.  Aside from the chapels, the equivalent of airline first class, the transepts offered a business-class religious experience, not within the presbytery (cockpit) where the monks worshipped but close to the action.  Then the nave provided economy-class devotion, where – often separated from the higher classes by a rood screen



Please use the prayers appropriate to your cabin: rood screen, Albi cathedral



The rood screen must be open for ascension


Such distinctions were easier in medieval times, when everyone accepted that people came in different classes, and many people thought those class distinctions ordained by God.


B. The administrative buildings.  Leading directly south from the cathedral, connecting via a door in the south transept, the campus maintained its administrative offices, all on the ground floor:


B1. Employee lockers in the vestry (also called the vestibule, whence the name), where the robes were donned.


B2. Management committee conference room, in the chapter house, where the monks gathered daily to read a chapter from the Rule of St. Benedict (hence the name) and also to set the day’s workload, make strategic decisions, and discuss personnel matters.



Heard the word, follow the Rule



Let’s all be careful in the afterlife out there


B3. Employee break room: the parlour, a very small space that was the one area where monks were permitted to converse (and presumably, not to linger).



Not much time for a chat in this corridor:

Remains of the parlour, Bylands Abbey, Yorkshire


C. The management dormitory.  One floor above the administrative offices were management’s sleeping quarters, the dorter or dormitory (the name bequeathed to us for colleges and universities).


The monks all slept together in one large room (according to the signboard, with their hands above their blankets, though the signboard declined to explain why).



Still from the Kirk Lazaurs/ Tobey Maguire film Satan’s Alley


They slept in their robes, it being generally cold in abbeys. 


The monks thus were always available for duty, as when the first service (name) came up at 2;00 am, they could rise, stumble down the night star into the presbytery and choir, sing their mass, and then return for a doze until matins (just before sunrise) when the more properly began.  This model of sleeping-near-the-workplace finds its modern echoes in hospital residencies, though today’s aspiring doctors actually have less convenient access to their work stations than did their medieval forbears.  Indeed, as a model of economy and high employee oversight, the abbey dorter has even the Googleplex beat.



Cloister, wings, and lay brothers’ parking spaces: The Googleplex from above


D. The transportation grid/ green space: the cloister.  To enable workers to move quickly about the campus, the abbey used the cloister model, an extension of the Roman-house compound.



Instead of gardens around the cloister, the Romans had a fountain


The cloister also allowed the monks their little bit of green space, where they may have grown herbs and medical plants.


Hotel Lobby Atrium

Simulating the outside: Atrium hotel lobby


As with other mixed-use structures, the atrium effect created a brief and refreshing sense of space even as it allowed speedy travel between wings of the complex.


A refreshing break akin to suspending a blog post until tomorrow.



It’ll still be a fizzy post tomorrow


[Continued in Part 3c.]