Note: I’ll be using “religious” as a gender-neutral noun to refer to monks and nuns. It’s less clunky than “monastics.”
The general perception of a medieval monastery is one of quiet, of contemplation, and of peace. Seclusion from the chaotic outside world certainly was part of the ideal. The thing is, that wasn’t always entirely practical. Leaving aside the slightly more frequent issues of visitors and the Abbot or Abbess’s duty to represent the monastery to the outside world* as well as the bits of daily life that caused their own disruptions, there was also the more fundamental need to construct, maintain, and renovate the actual buildings of the monastery.
The usual order of things for monasteries was to collect a community first and only then build the place. In the meantime, the community lived in temporary wooden structures and moved into the stone buildings as they were completed. In many cases it seems likely they went about their lives as structured by their Rule, as the construction work went on nearby. For their first several years (Hildegard von Bingen’s monastery at Rupertsberg, for example, seems to have taken at least 3 years to build), a community of religious lived their lives next to a construction site, sometimes almost within it.
[Reconstruction of what Cluny III might have looked like, Georg Dehio & Gustav von Bezold]
[Kirchliche Baukunzt des Abendlandes, 1887, source: Wikimedia Commons]
*Two of the biggest reasons for this were the need to solicit donations to ensure the economic wellbeing of the monastery and the need to be involved in politics, both secular and ecclesiastical, for the aforementioned economic reasons as well as to advance or maintain the other interests of the monastery.
Lawrence, C. H. Medieval Monasticism. London: Longman, 1984.
Stalley, Roger. Early Medieval Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Building a Monastery the Medieval Way - Brush off the Dust! History Now!