I’m a cloister addict. I like visiting abbeys and abbey churches where monks and nuns once lived  a contemplative life – some still do, but far fewer than in medieval times.

The cloisters were where monks and nuns could walk, take some fresh air, sit for a while on the low stone walls surrounding the central courtyard and perhaps read, pace around silently thinking deep thoughts or maybe walk while sharing quiet words in communication with each other; even silent orders were allowed some verbal moments.The square layout of the cloisters made for four-sided walks. Often the cloister pillars are carved with animals, birds, vegetation – all offering stimulation for thought and perhaps reminding those who looked at them that they were all still part of nature, even though they had withdrawn from the everyday life of the world.

The Chapter House, where the monks/nuns met with the abbot/abbess to discuss the business matters of the order, is always set in an area off one of the cloister walkways. The central courtyard was often a herbal monastery garden with fragrant plants and flowers for the occupants to enjoy as well as tend for medicinal tinctures and cures.

The cloisters, shown above, are at Valmagne Abbey in the south of France. The are relatively open, but some cloisters are more closed in and have windows – maybe this style was preferred in northern locations to offset the howling winds, rain and snow of winter yet still be a space where monks and nuns could walk and exercise.

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