Cell of Saint Teresa de Ávila in the Convent of Saint Joseph

A cell is a small room used by a hermit, monk, nun or anchorite to live and as a devotional space. Cells are often part of larger cenobitic monastic communities such as Catholic and Orthodox monasteries and Buddhist vihara,[1] but may also form stand-alone structures in remote locations. The word cell comes from the Old French celle meaning a monastic cell, itself from the Latin meaning "room",[2] "store room" or "chamber".[3]

In Christianity

Sketch of a monk's cell in the Grande Chartreuse
Sketch of a monk's cell in the Grande Chartreuse

Usually, a cell is small and contains a minimum of furnishings. It may be an individual living space in a building or a hermit's primitive solitary living space, possibly a cave or hut in a remote location. A small dependent or daughter house of a major monastery, sometimes housing just one or two monks or nuns, may also be termed a cell.

The first cells were in the Nitrian Desert in Egypt following the ministry of Paul of Thebes,[4] Serapion, and Anthony the Great.[5] in the mid 3rd century.

Dormitory at the Monastery Filotheou on Mount Athos
Dormitory at the Monastery Filotheou on Mount Athos

In some orders, such as the Trappists, the monks or nuns do not have cells but sleep in a large room called a dormitory. In eremitic orders like the Carthusians, the room called cell usually has the size and look of a small house with a separate garden.


See also: Monastery § Buddhism

In Buddhism vihara is often restricted to the rainy season and the vihara retreat.

See also


  1. ^ Cell at Merriam Websters Dictionary.com.
  2. ^ Cell at dictionary.reference.com.
  3. ^ cell at Oxford Dictionaries.
  4. ^ St Pauls Monastery Egypt.
  5. ^ Chryssavgis, John; Ware, Kallistos; Ward, Benedicta, In the Heart of the Desert: Revised Edition The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (World Wisdom Bloomington, Ind., 2008) p15.