During St Albans Abbey’s greatest days, the monastery was a centre of learning. One of the most famous historians from the scriptorium was Mathew Paris, who wrote the Chronica Majora in Latin from 1235 until he died in 1259. He began with the story of creation and concluded it with the news of the day.
Written in Latin, the Chronica Majora, starts with the creation story and ends with what, for Matthew, was the present day. St Alban's guest facilities and strategic position, one day's ride from London, made it a popular venue for the many visitors who brought much of the news and information which Brother Matthew recorded and illustrated. His drawings depicted subjects as varied as heraldic shields, Bible stories, famous battles in the crusades and the fantastic – for example, sea monsters.
Amongst other literature, Mathew wrote Gesta Abbatum – the Deeds of Abbots – which records life in a Benedictine house. Although he is loyal his own monastery, his comments are honest. He writes favourably and unfavourably about his abbot’s behaviour and decisions, and mentions favours and slights to St Albans.
By 1235 St Albans Abbey was a large self-contained community near to London. It received many visitors and the stable block contained stalls for 200 horses. There were a 100 monks or more and 300 or more lay helpers. The abbey’s prestige increased in the mediaeval era. 20 monasteries depended on it and acknowledged its authority. The abbots were – in modern day parlance – ‘rushed off their feet’ administering estates and intricate financial matters, attending parliament and entertaining royalty.