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This is the first sentence of The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams.

On this day of days there was an unfamiliar stirring deep inside the dozing heart of the Hayholt, in the castle's bewildering warren of quite passages and overgrown, ivy-choked courtyards, in the monk's holes and damp, shadowed chambers.

What are monk's holes in this context?

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3 Answers

It may mean a cell for a monk, but it might also be a variant on "Priest Hole":

the term given to hiding places for priests built into many of the principal Catholic houses of England during the period when Catholics were persecuted by law in England

In other words a hiding place for a monk.

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Monks, traditionally, eschew the pleasures and comforts of the flesh, preferring to make do with the most simple of foods, clothing and accomodations. Rather than have large rooms with luxurious beds, they would usually sleep in small, cramped cells, the minimum necessary, with no frills.

From what I remember of this series of novels by Williams, he borrows very heavily from Christianity in his fantasy world, with a faux-Christian religion serving a very similar role in the world that it did in Medieval Europe. I believe the monk's holes he is referring to here refers to the sort of monk's cells you would see in European monasteries.

And as an aside, I seem to recall enjoying the series quite a bit, though it's been over a decade since I read it.

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It is an excellent series. –  KitFox Mar 26 '13 at 20:16
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A Google search yields some interesting possibilities:

  • A bolt hole

...stories persist of a secret "monk's hole" through which the Queen was once conducted from the abbey to the other side of town, and a number of bolt holes still reputedly lie under the riverside inn... {"The Peripatetic," John Thelwall}

  • A very small cell

The "monk's hole" ...is a sort of chimney, just large enough to take the body of a man. When a monk or other prisoner refused to confess, he was let down into the hole in the wall to starve... {"Secret memoirs: the court of royal Saxony, 1891-1902"}

  • As another answer noted, a small, simple shelter

From that time stems the Mönchsloch ("Monk's Hole") hewn out of the rock just below the summit, a shelter about 1.75 metres high and 1.35 metres deep that was used by the guard post of the castle. {Mönch (rock), Wikipedia}

In the context of the OP's quoted passage, the last definition perhaps fits best.

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