Monastery, an establishment in which monks live; the term is extended so as to include abbey, nunnery, priory, friary, and laura. In the Middle Ages monasteries fulfilled the functions of schools and colleges, hotels, workhouses and systems of poor relief, and missions. They were places of refuge, and in them the germs of dormant civilisation were preserved and developed. They used to be called minsters in England, as their churches are still called - e.g. York Minster.