Skip to main content area


Cookie settings
Left Navigation
Main Content Area

Lay Brothers

lay brother or conversus was a man, often from a lower status background, who had joined the Cistercian order in a desire to lead the life of a monk, albeit  with special adjustments to the rule. He wore a modified, shorter form of the monks' habit, which made manual work easier, and he had a shortened form of prayer so that he could say his prayers in the fields while he was working. 

The lay brothers could not read Latin and had separate living quarters, yet had to obey the same rules of poverty, obedience and chastity as the monks. The monks themselves were expected to spend such long hours in prayer and in study that they would have had only about 30 hours a week for manual labour, which would not have been enough to run their often vast estates (Esther de Waal, "The Cistercians", in Ron Shoesmith and Ruth Richardson (eds.), A Definitive History of Dore Abbey, Logaston Press, 1997, p. 9). The lay brothers therefore became an important part of the Cistercian monastic life.

[Original author: Toria Forsyth-Moser, 2002-3]