So, this is for a story that has a medieval/fantasy vibe. It has to do with the small village my main character comes from. It's a very old village, having begun with a small monastery. I was thinking it be very simple, made of stone and possibly having a thatched roof. It would be maybe three rooms large, one where the monks would sleep, one where they would store scrolls, and another where they would hold mass. They would have a dirt basement where food was kept, and a small wooden hut/live pin to possibly store livestock.

How long would it take to construct these two structures if they were located somewhat far from the nearest town, having a river, a forest nearby, and located in the center of a mid-sized valley? They have access to a creature that is much like a mule, as well, as they live along the hilly wilderness.

The majority of the information I've found was about much larger and complex constructions, which I don't want to focus on at the moment.

I'm aware that it takes time to build a stone building back in medieval times, and so when I say simple, I meant simple as in relating to other stone creations such as cathedrals, and temples. I know it took decades for them to build those types, so I was thinking that may take considerably less. The wildlands are mostly forested, with tall, older trees. There are plenty rocks along the river side, and the mountain range nearby, is within an hours journey on foot. This church/building should be simple in style, but still enough to leave a mark. This is a monastery, that was created to bring blessings to "the creator" and to keep the wilderness at bay, at the edge of an old kingdom.

Would it make more sense to have the village sprout from a meager wooden Monastery and then, improve upon over the years instead of having it constructed of stone first?

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    $\begingroup$ A room is not a SI unit. Somewhere far, same. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Apr 5 '18 at 8:44
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    $\begingroup$ where is the building going to be constructed? if its near the mountain, stones are easier, but terrain may be hard for transporting larger stones. If its near a river, the river can be used as a transport pathway, and animals may be used for labor. How many humans are available for working on it? How many load carrying animals are available? How rich (by that society's standards) is the person / family building that house? Are older derelict buildings, such as an old fort / castle available to pick off the stones off? $\endgroup$ – ATG Apr 5 '18 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ Stone buildings are not "simple" structures. Some people need to quarry the stone, other people need to dress it, yet others to design and build the structure, with the help of scaffolding and possibly machinery. (Yes, the did have cranes in the Middle Ages.) Stone buildings are expensive; the first building in a remote location would almost always be made of wood, unless local conditions absolutely required stone, for example because the building is in Iceland and wood is much too expensive. As an order of magnitude, it costed about 10 times as much to build a stone house than a wood one. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 5 '18 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ Is there an old Roman (or similar) building nearby? Such buildings were a major source of stone for building in mediaeval Europe, and it would make things a lot quicker if such a resource was available. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Apr 5 '18 at 8:52
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    $\begingroup$ This be a better fit on history stack exchange $\endgroup$ – bendl Apr 5 '18 at 16:48

One thing to consider is that not all monasteries were huge flowery artifices taking decades to design, carve, and build up.

enter image description here

Here is an entirely unimposing stone built monastery in Ireland. These clochan (bell shaped or beehive shaped) oratories and houses were common. A far cry indeed from someplace like Mount St. Michel or Mt. Athos!

Notice the distinct lack of dressed stone and the lack of complex architecture and the lack of all the fiddly bits usually associated with religious architecture. Basically, a circle of field stones built up with a small doorway and perhaps a small window; the roof gradually arches over the interior.

I know from family experience that a single man can build a field stone wall about 50 foot long by six foot wide and four foot tall inside of a summer's spare time. I'd estimate that a single monk could, using gathered field stones from the area, build such a hut within half a year or less. A small community of monks could knock out a whole monastery probably within a year or less.

  • $\begingroup$ I would think that if stone is really this available, everything in the area would be stone then. The OP wanted it to stand out from other things, which would be little to no availability for all other structures. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Apr 6 '18 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly. I didn't see where the OP specifies how much (or how little) stone is lying about, nor that it ought to stand out. Rivers are generally great places to find stones, so even if the place isn't quiet as stony as the west of Ireland, stones sufficient for this kind of construction would still be readily available. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Apr 7 '18 at 1:34
  • $\begingroup$ "This church/building should be simple in style, but still enough to leave a mark." But if all the buildings in the area are made from this stuff, it's going to look like all the other buildings nearby, if the stone is easily had for the purpose. I guess it depends on what you take leave a mark to mean. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Apr 7 '18 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ Well, most ancient Irish houses are thatched or sod roofed. And were not beehive style. I'd say that an all stone monastery would indeed "stand out" (architecturally) from all the other thatched rooves and wattle-and-daub construction that might be the hallmarks of an out of the way hamlet. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Apr 7 '18 at 15:42

There is much literature on cathedrals, castles and fortifications. Cathedrals often take decades to build, with multigenerational workers, and the quality and expertise required to build them stretched all involved to the limit.

It sounds like your structure is a lot simpler, sleeping quarters and storage - however keep in mind in medieval times livestock often was inside your house, rather than a separate barn.

enter image description here

My experience in the construction industry is obviously using modern tools and materials - however the very basic elements of a building has not essentially changed since medieval times.

Stone houses could either be dressed stone or simply rocks found nearby. For instance in the highlands and in mountainous regions, where people are sparse and expertise not readily available, building rock houses was relatively easy - you can still see some evidence of these today. These are loosely assembled random piles of rocks to form walls, such as the diagram above.

Even then though you would need to gather the surrounding stones to pile them high, this may take you several days. Also the size of your structure would always be quite small - keep in mind that to roof it you would need tree branches to span the width of the house. This will limit the size.

Finding and timber and then thatching is another exercise - I know someone who thatched a small roof manually and it took him 2 full days by himself - with thatching premade. Timber will be determined by what condition you find them in - and what tools you have but I imagine if you are in proximity to good quality, correct length timber you would be able to gather and erect a roof frame in around 2-3 days.

Over all perhaps a week for a rudimentary basic rock house with branch-timber roof frame and thatching.

If however you are thinking of a monastery like those often depicted in film, these structures would take years. Dressing timber, honing and shaping stone, even placing flooring (which was not common) would take a long time with primitive tools. Dressing timber (getting branches off, sawing it, joining it) takes a lot of work, and you also need manpower.

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    $\begingroup$ here is my local monastery for detail, first built in wood, then rebuilt in stone which took 24 years between 1146 and 1170. and that isn't the full building you see in the pictures here. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountains_Abbey#Architecture $\endgroup$ – WendyG Apr 5 '18 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ @WendyG I loved Fountains Abbey. In my eyes, one of the most beautiful places I've had the please to visit. I want to go back. $\endgroup$ – kaine Apr 5 '18 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ @kaine i agree, so lucky to live 6 miles away. $\endgroup$ – WendyG Apr 5 '18 at 21:31

42 Arbitrary units

The reason you can only find the build times for large stone structures is that you don't build small stone structures unless you don't have much choice. The only reason to work in stone in that period is because you want to build a large imposing structure.

You need a source of stone, people to quarry the stone, stone masons to cut and dress the stone to fit. Stone masons are skilled workers, they're expensive to employ, there's an infrastructure of blacksmiths and other support workers that come with them. If you're trying to build a small structure you build it out of wood or wattle and daub. Easy, accessible materials that don't require such expensive skilled labour.

Digging a basement is also a vast amount of work for no real gain and liable to flood. Everything should be at ground level.

Remember that the chimney didn't show up in Europe until the 12thC and even then only in large buildings, they didn't become common in smaller buildings until the 16thC, so your monastery probably consists of single room buildings.

Building multiroom structures in stone would imply that actually these are really quite rich and influential monks, not a small poor rural monastery with nothing much to their names.

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    $\begingroup$ small sized stone constructions was used at the time, especially for churches, but even in homes. wattle a daub was way more common but that does not means small stone buildings were not built. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 5 '18 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ Also note construction time can vary a lot depending on manpower avaibility and how much your monks earn/year $\endgroup$ – jean Apr 5 '18 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ Houses built at least partly below ground level were actually quite common in various places - as an example, the grubenhaus featured a sunken floor and was common enough to be considered a characteristic Saxon building style. $\endgroup$ – walrus Apr 5 '18 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ If you go to places that have lots of dry stone walls, a bet they used stone really early, as nice sized cobbles are just littering the fields., see the diagram in flox's answer, matches how the walls are built in my 1700s house. $\endgroup$ – WendyG Apr 5 '18 at 21:36

Let me just echo what everyone else is saying. In this time period, stone building is a big deal. There's nothing simple about it. If they scavenge the stone from an older structure, that's possible.

Monasteries during this time were big, big business. Even a small one, in a small town is a way to generate income, as:

  • a religious retreat for the wealthy
  • a place where beer was produced
  • a place where preserves were produced
  • a place where books were copied/preserved

A monastery always aimed to be self-sufficient. What that means is that they produce enough goods and and animals there, on site so that they need nothing else ( or close to it), in order to limit their contact with the outside world.

The buildings and areas you're proposing aren't really in line with what a monastery really was for the time--and that even when they were ostensibly "poor" and "simple" they were actually a product of infrastructure and donations from nobility.

And you likely do need a small pond stocked with fish in their grange, if you are following the Catholic no meat Fridays rule.

You're talking about a well-stocked valley with decent resources for population, so you may want to rethink the whole "simple" thing. Because this area isn't poor or humble. They have access to a lot of food sources. For Medieval times, they'd be doing well, actually.

If you've researched the more complex structures and have a timeline on that, go with that timeline.

Let's look at each structure, because, I can tell you that it's pretty likely to be series of buildings rather than one big building, mainly because of fire:

the basement. There won't be a basement. At the very least, it won't be under any building if you are going to the least expense. It will be a root cellar, or a series of cellars dug out on their own. It's going to be shallow and small, because you don't want the trouble of hitting the water table (and these things tend to flood in rainy times) and building the supports is an engineering challenge the larger it is. When I say small, I mean closet sized. And it's unlikely to even have stairs down. Think, hole in the ground with a door on. If there's small hills, I would just build them into the side of a hill--that solves the water table problem at least, though it will still flood a bit during rainy times.

chapel Even a one room building that fits, say, 20 people total for mass--it's going to be built respectfully and well. That's going to take time. This structure is the one most likely to be built to last, with stone.

sleeping quarters build it out of wood. if this is early enough in the medieval period it might have a hole in the roof, in the center over the fire pit, because there are no chimneys... BTW livestock is unlikely to get a separate room, especially if you're going for humble...

livestock area Build a shelter, don't bother with most or any of the walls, just posts to tie things up and a roof to keep the rain out. Pretty fancy though, having them in their own area. But, then, monks in general had a better standard of living...

scroll storage build it out of wood, might be in the same room as sleeping quarters. If you want another room, build another building.

How long will it take to build I am going to start with the assumption that the stones for construction have magically appeared. Because quarrying and transport is a whole other thing. Based on the small sizes of things, my lowest estimate without that is about 6 months-2 years, depending on how much help they have. They will still need wooden large beam structures (if you are going with the rooftop being thatched), and those have to be cut and cured. A real-deal church and grounds at this time takes much, much longer, more like 20 years. If you want them to be proud of their tiny chapel, have it take 5-10 years and make it all stone.

It should be wood though...because stone is hella expensive. Stone is the upgraded version. You want simple and poor--it's made of wood. If, locally, there's a good source of stone, or that's the industry of the nearby lord, I can see it being donated, and it's something that they are proud of...If stone is really available and common for the area, it's still got to be shaped a bit and stacked. If they are common, and more easy to work with than wood (which in mountain areas can be true) then everything in the area will be made from stone.

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    $\begingroup$ "I am going to start with the assumption that the stones for construction have magically appeared." They may have well done so - magically by taking apart a roman villa in the valley, for example, that is already mostly decayed. It is amazing how much technology went backward in the dark ages. $\endgroup$ – TomTom Apr 5 '18 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ @TomTom Eh, that really depends on WHEN and where in Medieval times because they get really good at building stuff, especially churches. The Dark Ages are long time. Lots of things did get built out of Roman walls and such for sure. It's magical Roman stone! ; ) $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Apr 6 '18 at 1:46

A lot of the answers here stress that stone isn't used for simple buildings in the mediaeval period, but that depends on the time period. And also, since you're going for more of a general fantasy / historic vibe, you might also consider construction in Roman or renaissance times.

The Romans often used a kind of concrete mixed with pieces of rock, broken pottery and other garbage. It's an easy material to work with and pretty sturdy. It's also pretty quick to build with. The exact time it needs to set depends on the precise mixture, but banding in ancient structures as well as modern experience suggest that it might have taken about a day for every half a meter in height or so. The surface of the concrete was often finished using ceramic or stone tiles or bricks. In some cases, first stone slabs were put up to serve as the surface of the wall and the concrete was poured in between the slabs and allowed to settle and bond with the stone.

Building with bricks is more time consuming and was historically also quite expensive. (Which might come as a surprise considering our generation's familiarity with bricks as a cheap material during post-war reconstruction, before in recent years concrete took over even in small buildings.) A skilled bricklayer does about 600 to 800 bricks per day. If your monastery contains about 10,000 bricks that would work out to about two weeks.

But in practice construction often took a lot longer. The monastery in Ter Apel took a century to build, although it's much bigger than your monastery and it probably was constructed in several phases, each of which might have taken a few months. But then, this was the reality: monasteries were big institutions because they had to be self-sufficient to a large degree while at the same time also serving an outreach function. You'd have the convent building itself, but also a gate, a library, a bakery, a brewery and a hostel.

Even smaller buildings like brick farmhouses took time to complete, mainly because of financial concerns. Often, the building would start out as a wood-frame building and if the farmer got rich enough he'd start to replace pieces with brick walls, just a few metres every year. Similarly, farmers often started with thatched roofs, only replacing parts with ceramic tiles when they had a financial surplus.


Just adding a little bit more info on the actual building. If you want to build a really quick building in the early medieval days you build the walls as short as possible and give it a tall round roof. As some others have mentioned, working with stone takes a long time and rather expensive if you hire someone to do it. Making a roof on the other hand is really quick and easy to do.

If you plan on making the monastery more than one level tall then I would suggest only making the first level stone and the rest out of wood or some other material. However, depending on how long the building has been around could give you reason to make it fully out of stone or rather big in size. But, if you are leading more for, it has only been around like a year or so then I would say to keep it simple.

There is a YouTuber that goes into a good bit of detail talking about medieval buildings and architecture. Here is one of his Videos that goes on to explain in a little bit more detail. In other videos, he explains about why the second floors would overhang as well and various other things. I definitely recommend taking a look at his channel.


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