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Varnhem Abbey was a Cistercian monastery and probably an early medieval center of learning in Sweden. From here the continental European monks spread traditions, crafts and other influences from outside to the somewhat aloof and backwards-seeming Swedish society. At least as much learning as could penetrate the thick walls and rigid ways of the monastic order. Modern scholars believe the technical know-how that existed inside the walls often did not reach as far outside said walls as one could hope, as the Cistercians did not mingle with people from the outside to the same extent as the mendicant orders, such as the Dominicans and Franciscans, which could be found in urban settings such as the nearby city of Skara.
The depicted ruins are from the cellarium of the monastery. The cellarium was primarily a storage area and could often be found underground (and is the origin of our word cellar). It was one of a number of specified rooms and areas which could be found in nearly identical form, and adherring to an identical plan, in all monasteries across Europe. This strict adherance to a given plan is not only mirrored in the daily routines of the monks, but also in the strict Christian worldview. The medieval Christian view of the Cosmos was that of an unblemished, well-oiled machine following a divine plan, where the celestial bodies were fixed to perfect spheres. These spheres produced a "Music of the Spheres" as they followed their divinely given orbits. As the plan was that of an infallible God, it was impeccable and could not be questioned or torn up by mere man.

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