Monastic enclosures


Hello Everyone,
I belong to a Monastery as a secular oblate. This monastery is cloistered with a Papal Enclosure. Could you explain the term Papal Enclosure and are there other degrees of enclosure. Thank you,nannyma


Hi “nannyma” I will offer the information that I have. But I need to tell you that I am just a lay woman. I have no affiliation with any monastic order.

Having said this, my understanding of “Papal Enclosure” is as follows: A Papal Enclosure means that the brothers or sisters of that Order, remain within the precincts of the monastery grounds, leaving only for medical reasons. There are typically walls and grilles separating them, from the outside world. And they are completely devoted to the contemplative life.

I understand, also… that such Orders usually have what are called “Extern” brothers and sisters. These members live in the monastery and participate fully in the devotional life of the community… but they also conduct all of the “outside” business of the monastery (grocery shopping, errands… etc.).

I am sorry, but I know nothing of various “degrees” of enclosure. I hope someone else may comment on that. God bless you.


There seem to be two basic types of enclosure - papal enclosure (in which the Holy See approves the enclosure) and constitutional enclosure (in which the enclosure is defined in the monastery’s constitution.)

Marie Veronica did a great job of describing papal enclosure, at least as I understand it. But here is a document which goes into some detail:


General Principles

  1. § 1. The enclosure of nuns of the wholly contemplative life is called papal, because the rules governing it must be confirmed by the Holy See, even in the case of norms to be specified in the Constitutions and in other legislative texts of the Institute (Statutes, Directories, etc.). (65)

Given the great variety of Institutes dedicated to the wholly contemplative life and given the variety of their traditions, some aspects of their separation from the world are left to particular law, and are subject to the approval of the Holy See.

Particular law can also lay down stricter norms regarding enclosure.

Extent of enclosure

§ 2. The law of papal enclosure extends to the residence and to all areas, indoors and outdoors, reserved to the nuns.

The means by which the monastery building itself, the choir, the parlours and all areas reserved to the nuns are separated from the outside must be physical and effective, not just symbolic or “neutral”. These means are to be defined in the Constitutions and supplementary legislative documents, with due regard both for the places themselves and for the different traditions of individual Institutes and monasteries.

The participation of the faithful in the liturgy is not a reason for the nuns to leave the enclosure nor for the faithful to enter the nuns’ choir. Guests cannot be allowed to enter the monastery enclosure.

The obligation of enclosure

§ 3. a) By virtue of the law of enclosure, nuns, novices and postulants must live within the enclosure of the monastery, and it is not permissible for them to leave it, except in cases provided for by law; nor it is permissible for anyone to enter the area of the enclosure of the monastery, with the exception of cases provided for by law.

§ 3. b) Norms concerning the separation from the world of extern Sisters are to be defined by particular law.

§ 3. c) The law of enclosure entails a grave obligation of conscience both for the nuns and for outsiders.

The document goes on at some length, I simply quoted a portion of it.


Did you ever read IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE?

One of the nuns in this fictional abbey (though based on Stanbrook Abbey in England) said somthing like this, “An enclosed monastery is a powerhouse of prayer. Just as you build a fence around a powerhose to keep people from interfering with its workings, so is the monasatery enclosed to keep out distractions”.


Terrific novel! It begins pre-Vatican II but that in itself is rewarding reading. I recommend it to everyone.


If you are more keen on pre-vatican II papal enclosure with turns, drawers going through walls and so on, read
SPONSA CHRISTI, written by Pope Pius XII. You have it in French or Spanish on the Vatican website but there's no translation. :(


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