According to the maxim of the 12th century monk Geoffroy, “An abbey without a library is like a fortress without an arsenal”.
At Escaladieu Abbey, as at other monastic sites, specific areas were set aside to accommodate books, which were called “the treasure of the monks”. The first armarium is succeeded by the scriptorium in the north east corner of the monastery. This important change, which probably occurred during the13th or 14th century, coincides with the development of a new material: paper.
In this scriptorium the monks make copies of the Bible, religious texts and many scientific and literary works, turning the monasteries into centres of learning.
Copying was therefore one of the principal tasks of the monks, but some monks also portrayed it as demanding, repetitive and tedious work. Thus a copyist wrote: “Be careful with your fingers. Do not put them on my writing! You do not know what it means to write! It is a crushing chore: it curves your back, dulls your eyes, hurts your stomach and your ribs…”.
This armarium claustri is the library of the cloister, the first place built at Escaladieu for storing books. Composed of three semi-circular arches opening onto niches, the armarium was closed: hinges, panels for doors to fit and holes corresponding to the closing system can be seen. Grooves indicate the location of the shelves.
Its relatively modest dimensions reflect the scarcity of books in the 12th century. Established in a strategic location, in the north-east corner of the cloister, between the church and the chapter house (three important places for daily reading).