At the heart of every medieval monastery stood a cloister, an arcaded walkway surrounding a courtyard. The Museum’s cloister is modeled after a thirteenth-century example at the Abbey of Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines in the Roussillon region of southwestern France, and includes sculpture originally from the abbey, contemporary elements from the province, and early-twentieth-century reproduction carvings.
Medieval cloisters served both practical and spiritual purposes. Most were open air, often with a garden in the courtyard. A ninth-century architectural drawing known as the Plan of Saint Gall, which is considered a blueprint of the ideal monastic compound, features a large, centrally located cloister that would have been reserved for the monks. At Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines, the outer walkway held doors that opened into the dining hall, the chapter house (where the abbey was administered), and the church. In addition to functioning as a connecting space, the courtyard and its colonnade were used by the religious community for processions, services, and communal readings. The cloister also provided an area where individual monks could engage in private prayer and contemplation.
Purchased with funds contributed by Elizabeth Malcolm Bowman in memory of Wendell Phillips Bowman, 1928