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Shanghaiceltic BS: monks winter warmer (5) BS: monks winter warmer 13 Apr 06

Mmm the comment on using urine as part of the alchemy process continues today with certain beers.

Nip in the air for medieval monks
By Paul Stokes
(Filed: 13/04/2006)

Medieval monks probably warmed themselves on winter nights with strong drink they distilled on the quiet, according to new evidence unearthed at a remote abbey.

Archaeologists have discovered apparatus which could have been used only for distillation - or dabbling in the black art of alchemy to try to create gold from base metal.

The 15th century glazed pottery cone, or hood, found at Byland Abbey, near Thirsk, North Yorks, is 8in tall and 6in across the base. It would have fitted over a heated vessel and vapours given off from the boiling mixture would have passed though a small hole at its apex into a pipe connected to a condenser.

The Cistercian order of monks, which established the abbey in 1137, was known to have experimented with alchemy. Richard of Buckfast, a 15th century scholar, recorded how one monk, Richard Archebold, of Oxford, ran up huge debts pursuing the unattainable.

A similar vessel was found recently near a urinal at a Cistercian settlement in Stamford, Lincs. The position may be significant, as urine, with quicksilver, was considered an essential ingredient of the alchemist's art.

Kevin Booth, English Heritage's senior curator in the North, said: "The line between religion and science was very blurred in those days. They may have been experimenting but the hood could also have been used in making alcohol.

"In the early days of the order, hard spirits would have been banned. However, as time passed the strictures of the regime relaxed.

"There is no suggestion of massive production or drunken monks but some form of locally produced spirit might well have been offered as a post-dinner warmer on some of the wilder Yorkshire winter nights."

The hood is part of a new display at the abbey, including tiles and other ceramics.

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