10.4 Claustral buildings

At Aberdeen, the cloister lay in the 'traditional' location to south of the church. A number of buildings are mentioned in the extant historical sources, from the earliest period of the friary's existence. A late 13th century grant stipulates the following buildings were to be erected: church, cloister, refectory, dormitory, infirmatory and kitchen (Copsey 1995, 45). There is no historical evidence to indicate how that building programme progressed, but it is likely that initial buildings might have been of wood, a supposition borne out by the finding of numerous post-holes in the earlier excavation phases.

Most of the layout of a stone-built west range was recovered during the excavation, along with part of the south range and fragments of the east. The stone west range structure was built during Phase 5b, stratigraphically later than the stone church and with a date range of 14th to early 15th century. The latest dating evidence from the west range is the presence of a Scottish billon halfpenny of James 1, dated to 1406-37, found in the foundation of its east wall. At the north end of the range, its east wall seemed to be of similar construction to the south wall of the church, so it could be that the west range was constructed over quite a lengthy period. From historical evidence it seems that funds were coming in from the Crown throughout the 14th century and they may have been used in part to create this structure (see Section 4.4). Upstanding, or indeed excavated, remains of friary cloisters are very few and far between, except in Ireland and the excavated Aberdeen evidence is certainly the most extensive for any western range in Scotland. Use of the west range rooms can be only partially deduced from the excavated traces. It is clear that one room (see Section 3.8.5) had a fireplace, first with a tiled hearth, which was later replaced with cobblestones and possibly also a nearby drain. It has been interpreted as a kitchen, either for the entire house or for the prior's accommodation, but could also have functioned as a warming room.

The south range was also excavated in part, while fragments of the east range were detected during observation of the excavation for the laying out of a new sewer line along Carmelite Street. An element of the south range is represented by Structure 5a. There remains some doubt about the dating of that building, largely because of the discovery within one of its foundation trenches of a mid 13th century coin; with the additional factor that it was excavated during the 1980-81 campaign, in contrast to the adjacent west range, revealed in 1994. However, Structure 5a has been interpreted as being contemporary with construction of the church, in Phase 5a.

Unfortunately there has been no evidence, either historically or archaeologically, as to where the friars slept or how these 'quarters' were arranged, although it is likely that the dormitory would have been on the upper floor of the unexcavated east range. As the order was originally eremitic, it can be supposed that in early times the sleeping quarters would have been divided into individual and private cells for each friar. However by the 13th century the order was a mendicant one. Writing in the late thirteenth century (and in reference to the friary at Newnham in Cambridge) a Barnwell canon found it surprising that the Carmelites there had a cell each. This would seem to imply that it was more common for the Carmelites by that time to have a dormitory or common sleeping room (Smet 1975, 160).

The 3D model provides one interpretation of the excavated and historical evidence and identifies where the authors feel that the various friary functions and spaces may have been located, bearing in mind, of course, that what may have started out as an ambitious building project may never in fact have been completed in full. One function that we know was performed by Aberdeen Carmelite friary in particular was that of a study centre or 'studium' (Copsey 1995, 65, 69-70). There is no doubt that it had a library, from which a number of inscribed books have survived to this day. The friars themselves would undoubtedly have read and studied either within their own cells or dormitory area or within the cloister, but storage for the books and an area for teaching would have been required.


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