Medieval monasteries were the wealthiest land owners in Medieval England – more so than any medieval king. Medieval monasteries dominated the church in Medieval England as the monks who lived and worked in them were considered to be extremely holy.
How did monasteries acquire their wealth? In Medieval England, the belief in Heaven and Hell was total. Medieval Peasants were taught that the only way to Heaven and salvation was via the Church. Therefore people worked on Church land for free. Money dues were paid to the church for baptism, marriage and death. Also every year, each family paid a tenth of its yearly worth to the Church – known as tithes. Such an income made the Church fabulously wealthy and powerful. It gained vast areas of land and it was on this land that monasteries were built.
The monks who lived in these monasteries were considered very holy men. As with local churches, people would work on monastic land for free – to show their love of God. While it is easy to see medieval monasteries as performing some form of con with regards to preying on the superstitions and beliefs of the peasants, this is too simplistic to be valid. People in a village might have to give up two days a week to work for free for a monastery, but those monks who lived and worked in the monasteries would have been convinced that this was the way towards salvation for these people.
It is also too simplistic to think of all monks as living off the fat of the land and benefiting from the labour of others. Many monasteries performed important tasks within their community. They were the only source of some form of medical treatment. Some monasteries had what can only be described as medieval hospitals attached to them. The medical treatment was done by the monks. Some monasteries were renowned centres of learning and culture. Others, such as the priory at Lindisfarne, gained fame for the piety of the monks who lived and worked there. Life in a place such as Lindisfarne was harsh even if the monastery itself was wealthy. Those peasants who could work on the land were few as so few people near Lindisfarne.
Part of Lindisfarne Priory
Only Oxford and Cambridge Universities could surpass some monasteries as centres of learning. All monks had to read and write as these were fundamental skills for the role they had within the monastery.