The Alcobaça Monastery has a rather narrow door in its former dining hall, according to social media posts this is the “anti gluttony door”.
Monks who had to fetch their own food from the kitchen could only fit through the door if they weren’t eating too much as the passage is only 32cm (roughly 1 foot) wide.
If they couldn’t get through, they wouldn’t get any food.
To prove the claim the story is often accompanied with a picture of a gentleman with a bit of a belly who seems to be unable to get though the door.
The narrow door at the Monastery in Alcobaça is in reality 50 centimetres (1.6 ft) wide but was meant to pass plates from the kitchen to the refectory.
In a way it was just an early version of the serving hatch.
In 2008 a photo of the door was uploaded to wikipedia commons with the description; “ Mosteiro de Alcobaça, Refectory, door of unknown usage, said being used for monk´s weight-control”.
Portuguese Wikipedia used the picture for the page on the monastery as “The legendary narrow door of the cafeteria, which was intended to deliver meals to the poor.”.
In 2014 a user by the name Daniel Villafruela uploaded the picture of the man unable to fit through the door with the caption ‘I fear to have severely violated the Rule of frugality’.
But the myth may have been older and was perhaps already being told by tour-guides long before this time.
Many myths are born thanks to a guide who decided to be a bit creative with the truth or who forgot to mention that the story he keeps telling the tourists was nothing more than a fable.
Monks have been made fun of and accused of living the good life for centuries, even in medieval times they were a popular target for mocking and there are countless stories of fat monks who drank, ate and fornicated too much.
And although this undoubtedly happened in some cases, the men at the Alcobaça monastery were Cistercian monks and thus had a strict, generally healthy diet.
Even if one of the monks got a bit too rotund, there surely would be easier ways to make him eat a bit less than to have an architect plan a special door just for these rare occasions.
Besides if a monk is peckish he’ll find a way, especially as there’s another door to the kitchen just left of it that is so wide it would fit several monks at once.
Google Maps has a wonderful virtual tour of the stunning monastery you can easily find online (or click here), you can see both the doors next to each other.
Of course that door is never on the photo’s being shared to accompany this story.
The real function for the door is that of a serving hatch, on the other side of the wall was indeed once the kitchen and plates would be passed through.
This is of course a much less entertaining story and it is less fun to imagine someone handing a plate of food than a sad looking monk trying to fit through the door while his brothers try not to laugh.
That is probably why the story is still being taught at the monastery even they do mention that it is not true.
The ‘guião de visita‘ (visitor’s guide) that can be found on the monastery’s official website says;
“Look at the narrowest door! It’s called “dish-carrier” and was used to pass the dishes and food to the cafeteria. There is a legend regarding to this door, which says that the monks who could not pass through it were considered sinners because they were very fat.“
It is unclear why they put in such a tall door in stead of just a little window, even if you stack a lot of plates, the passage wouldn’t have needed it to be as big as it is.
I think it may be because it was also used to pass large trays vertically and perhaps even trestle tables.
On the other hand the place was rebuild and altered countless times during it’s history, in the 1840s the refectory was even turned into a theatre hall.
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