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cloister, unroofed space forming part of a religious establishment and surrounded by the various buildings or by enclosing walls. Generally, it is provided on all sides with a vaulted passageway consisting of continuous colonnades or arcades opening onto a court. The cloister is a characteristic part of monastic institutions (see abbey), serving both as sheltered access to the various units of the group and for the recreation of the monks. Cloisters became an important architectural form in the 11th cent., a period marked by active monastery building all over Europe. They were not limited to monastic houses, but were built in some English colleges, as at Oxford and Eton, and in some churches, mostly in England and Spain. In N France many of the original cloisters have disappeared, but superb Romanesque cloisters remain in S France, Italy and Sicily, and Spain. In the typical examples the arches are supported by delicate columns, generally coupled, the elaborate capitals of the paired columns sometimes being interlaced. The 13th-century cloisters of two Roman churches, St. John Lateran and St. Paul's outside the Walls, are notable Romanesque examples, distinguished by twin spiral columns inlaid with rich glass mosaics. Of the Gothic period, the English cloisters are especially fine, as at Salisbury, Wells, and Westminster Abbey. The Renaissance cloisters are confined chiefly to Italy and Spain. In the New World the Spanish colonists began in the 16th cent. to build simple cloisters, generally arcaded, in Mexico, Cuba, and California.

Cloisters, the

Cloisters, the, museum of medieval European art, in Fort Tryon Park, New York City, overlooking the Hudson River. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was opened to the public in May, 1938. Designed by architect Charles Collens (1873–1956), the building includes elements from five French cloisters, a 12th-century Romanesque chapel, and a chapter house; three of the reconstructed cloisters enclose authentic medieval gardens. The core of the collection the museum houses consists of several hundred examples of medieval painting, sculpture, and other forms of art gathered in France by George Grey Barnard. This collection was bought by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (see under Rockefeller, John Davison), in 1925, and presented to the Metropolitan Museum. Later additions include a series of 15th-century tapestries, Hunt of the Unicorn; a tapestry series of the 14th cent., The Nine Heroes; the famous Mérode Altarpiece by Robert Campin; the Bury St. Edmunds ivory crucifix; and Les Belles Heures de Jean, Duc de Berry, an early 15th-century illuminated book of hours. The holdings also include outstanding examples of stained glass, ritual objects, metalwork, and enamels.


See J. J. Rorimer, The Cloisters (3d ed. 1963), and Medieval Monuments at the Cloisters (rev. ed. 1972); P. Barnet and N. Wu, The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture (2005).

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A square court surrounded by an open arcade, a covered walk around a courtyard, or the whole courtyard.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved


A covered walk surrounding a court, usually linking a church to other buildings of a monastery.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. a covered walk, usually around a quadrangle in a religious institution, having an open arcade or colonnade on the inside and a wall on the outside
2. a place of religious seclusion, such as a monastery
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Carroll recently gave an email interview to NCR to discuss The Cloister, his 12th novel.
Dad's disparagement of the cloister seemed a denial of what we profess in church.
In between galleries, one can visit lovely gardens, including the Bonnefort Cloister Herb Garden, which contains more than 250 species of plants and herbs-including poisonous varieties, properly identified-cultivated in the middle ages.
The Cloister doesn't bill itself as a wheelchair user's destination.
The meaning of cloister as paradise comes from the Middle Ages and that did not change in Renaissance times.
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The vivid realities of war, the challenges of love denied, and the graceful inner turmoil of a young novice in a cloister weave together in a beautiful A[c]tude of humanity.
The cloister gardens themselves, too, are delightful to sit in and to walk around, and the whole place is an oasis of peace and calm in a busy city.
Thibault's winning design of a low-rise structure embedded in the forest keeps faith with the traditional relationship between cloister and church.
Patton's essay uses the minute but intriguing detail of a carved Islamic book-cover flap in a capital of the Romanesque cloister of Santa Maria la Mayor in Tudela as a touchstone for a broader discussion of the Christian tendency to conflate Jewish and Islamic attributes when portraying the non-believing "other." within the scheme of the iconographic program, the portrayal of a Jewish book (probably the Talmud) contained inside an Islamic cover visibly defines both populations as being in opposition to Christianity.
(2) But the more elaborate allegories of Hugh of St Victor and his fellow Augustinian canons, which employed such frameworks as the ark, the temple, and the cloister, were more than mere sets of boxes into which units of knowledge could be conveniently packed for later retrieval.