Latrine building or necessarium

Phase: B

Period: gpthic

One of the most conspicuous consumers of water on many major monastic sites was the latrine building, often designed to accommodate a significant portion of the community at a single "sitting." The latrine building at Saint-Jean-des-Vignes was dismantled during the years following the French Revolution. Our excavations revealed the outer walls of this building and a part of the channel on the interior. Today the outer walls survive only in foundation, but the water channel is largely intact.

Originally, the latrine was a single storied, rectangular structure, 17 meters long and nearly 9 meters wide. It was bonded with the dormitory at its west end and shared a wall, and probably a stair vice, in common with it. The water channel (1.20 meters wide and nearly 3 meters deep) extended below the center of the building. Water entered the channel by means of the aqueduct originating at the nearby western source. One intact transverse arch and the springers for three others subdivide the two sectors of the sluice which have been excavated and give us some indication of the spacing of the toilets above. Their survival also offers us precious testimony about circulation levels inside the building. Extant latrine buildings such as nearby Royaumont and Maubuisson demonstrate that the wooden toilets and partitions were typically placed directly on these diaphragm arches. The placement of these arches thus makes clear that the actual toilets at Saint-Jean were not placed on an upper floor and that the latrine building was accordingly not as high as the adjacent 2-storey dormitory.

The somewhat uneven spacing of the surviving arch and the springers permits us to reconstruct the original spacing of the toilets in the latrines. The average width of a medieval toilet area can be reconstructed from textual and archaeological evidence to be between 75 and 85 centimeters. At Saint-Jean, the total length available within the channel permits two rows of twelve toilets on each side. The number of canons who could use the latrines at the same time would thus be twenty-four. Though other reconstructions are possible, it seems established that it was never possible for the entire community of 90 canons to use the latrines at the same time.

The latrines at Saint-Jean were "flushed" by a sluice gate, located just to the east of the toilet area. In the last 1.50 meters of the channel, just in front of the sewer opening, there are several pieces of evidence which attest to the presence of such a gate. On the south side of the channel, there is a narrow offset in the wall and, on the opposite side, a putlog hole. Small, stone projections for a trap door, permitting access to the water channel for maintenance and repair, also still survive.