A cloister, is an architectural term to describe the structures usually attached to a cathedral, monastery or abbey. There are usually four hallways, with roofs, but open to the air and together they surround a courtyard. The term cloister is sometimes taken to refer to the entire monastery, a place where a Christian community lives in isolation.

Canonical cloisters were located in the towns.

Monastic cloisters are those that were built in the countryside, away from the cities. Canonical cloisters were generally built for the "cannons regular", the priests who lived by the church and are generally located in the centre of towns along with the cannonès cathedral or church.

Typically, a cloister always has a patio which is an open area in which flowers or shrubs are planted arranged around a fountain or well. There is a extensive range of architectural details. Yep, bring out those cameras! Although at one time a scared place, just about all have been deconsecrated and are open to visitors.

Benedict of Nursia is known as the father of Western monasticism. What what is reported or can be known, Benedict lived between 490 and 560 and was born somewhere in Umbria. From there he went to Rome, then to Subgiaco and later further south to Monte Cassino. (We thoroughly enjoyed our visit Monte Cassino in 2003.)

The life of the monk was based on prayer and work. There were rules to the most detailed degree. The Benedictine Rule was known fro its fraternal obedience and charity and the moderation in discipline. Benedictine Rule was not the only guidance.

Cistercian reform. The next major change starts somewhere around 1098 when a Cistercian reform took place. This was a return to the basics initiative. Cistercians wanted a better balance between the Benedict's two founding principles: prayer and manual labour. Austerity, asceticism and isolation were the main thrust of this movement.

In terms of what we have seen on our travels, the Order of Saint Benedict, or the Benedictine System pretty well was the only type of structure from the 9th to 12th Century in Western Europe. The Benedictine Plan was used pretty consistently: church and cloister join at the south wall of the church, the cloister's perfect square have four paths that meet in the middle at a bush bearing red berries.

During Cistercian reform, the concept of lay brothers was introduced. They could not be in the cloiser but had a seperate walled corridor, "lay-brother-alley".

Decorations of cloisters had their time also. The capitals of the columns are an example of different approaches. During Carolingian times, the capitals were cubes or decorated with foliate - that is typically filled with a leaf scroll design. Figurative capitals started to appear in the Romanesque period -- starting around the 11th Century and included foliate, geometric and animal motifs. This disappeared at that end of that period. One of the oldest is the abbey in Moissac, part of our 2004 tour of France. In the Renaissance period, capitals reflected a Roman look and were simple squares.

Ceiling vault development took place between the 11th and 16th Century. The plainer barrel vault ceiling was more often found in the cloister and ribbed vaulted would be used in the chapter-house. Rib vaulting took off and was found in the cloisters also.

Chapter House

Chapter HouseThe chapter house is a building or a room, where meetings were held. When part of a cloister, the chapter house is typically found in the eastern wing. The chapter house, because of its importance, would be one of the first to be constructed after the building of the church has commenced.

Starting in about the 11th Century, Chapter Houses were located at ground level, along the east side - as part of thePlan of Saint-Gall for Benedictine Cloisters.

Here in the chapter house, the monks would hold daily gatherings, typically in the morning, following mass. The meetings would involve the reading of the rules or monastic orders. Tasks for the day could also be part of the process.

To hold "chapter" refers to when the abbot would read from the rule book and bible.

Some of the chapter rooms are quite ornate with open arches, as pictured above, in front of the chapter room, or a closed door with often an elaborate facade.

Typically the chapter house has thick walls with small windows. Benches line the walls where the monks would site according to strict protocol.

Chapter houses are also part of the structure of cathedrals. A cathedral chapter refers to a body of clerics who advise the bishop.

 While cloisters were private places, not open to the public, now most have been deconsecrated and are open to the public.

Given that the monks lived a private life, away from the outside world, the cloister also played an important role in providing visual information about the seasons. The gardens and grass in the centre of the cloister marked the change of seasons. As outlined in the daily schedule of the monk, there were some significant differences in routine that took place in the summer and the winter.