Last edited 07 Feb 2022



Known as the monks' lavatory, this long, shared basin - or lavatorium - can be found in the cloisters along the north walk of Gloucester Cathedral. It would have had fresh water running along the trough with multiple sink outlets.


[edit] Introduction

Pevsner’s Architectural Glossary (second edition) was published by Yale University Press in 2018. It defines a lavatorium as: ‘A washing place adjacent to the refectory or dining hall in an abbey or monastery’. A lavatorium may also be referred to as a laver or lavatory. The plural of lavatorium is lavatoria.

This communal washing area was typically found in medieval abbeys or in close proximity to cathedral cloisters.

[edit] Function

The purpose of a lavatorium was to give monks the ability to complete their handwashing prior to meals.

Some lavatoria were fashioned as long troughs situated under cover and in close proximity to the refectory. Others were constructed as fountains in covered courtyards. Modest lavatoria were also provided as basins in separate rooms that had been designated for that purpose. The basins and troughs were frequently lined with lead and included drains to remove dirty water.

Lavatorium were also used by monks for shaving purposes, and may have been used during certain ceremonial occasions (such as those associated with acts of humility).

Clean towels were kept in cupboards referred to as aumbries. There was a person in charge of changing the towels in the aumbries, cleaning the lavatorium and maintaining the shaving supplies for the monks. That refectorian (or refectoror) was known as the fraterer; he was also responsible for maintaining supplies and cleanliness associated with the refectory or dining room.

[edit] Decorative aspects of lavatorium

Running water was provided through lead pipes and controlled by taps. These taps could be fashioned from bronze or carved in elaborate shapes.

Carved panels were sometimes installed in lavatoria as decorative features.


The stained glass windows at the Gloucester Cathedral lavatorium were made in 1868 by John Hardman of Birmingham.

In Gloucester Cathedral, the long lavatorium is located within the 16th century cloisters situated to the north of the nave of the building. This washing room is decorated with a modest version of the elaborate, fan vaulted ceiling of the nearby cloisters. It also includes Victorian stained glass windows that capture Biblical scenes associated with water.

--Heidi Schwartz

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