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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The cloister
Plan of roche abbey showing the location of the sacristy(1/2)

Paradise is among us here in spiritual exercise, simple prayer and holy meditation.(1)

The cloister arcade at Rievaulx
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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The cloister arcade at Rievaulx

The cloister stood at the centre of the precinct, where it was sheltered from noise and disruption. The cloister at Rievaulx was c. 42sq. m (140 ft) and dates from William’s abbacy (1132-1145). It was made up of a large central area surrounded by an open arcade; five of the original twelfth-century cloister arcades survive and have been re-erected in the NW corner of the cloister. Aelred’s treatise on friendship, c. 1160, suggests that this central area was not originally grassed, for he mentions that at this time there were flowers and fruit trees:

The day before yesterday, as I was walking the round of the cloister of the monastery, the brethren were sitting around forming, as it were, a most loving crown. In the midst, as it were, of the delights of paradise with the leaves, flowers and fruits of each single tree I marvelled.(2)

A vision in the cloister
On one occasion when Waldef, abbot of Melrose, visited his mother-house of Rievaulx, he arrived when the brethren were having their afternoon siesta and took a seat in the cloister. As Waldef was unable to sleep, he began to recite the psalms and as he did so had a vision in which a bright angelic figure appeared to him. This was William, the first abbot of Rievaulx, who led a band of white-robed men, who were monks and lay-brothers of the Order. William explained that the gems shining in his crown and vestments represented the souls he had acquired for God and revealed that he visited Rievaulx three times a year since it was there that he (and the others) had earned eternal rest.
[Jocelin of Furness, Life of Waldef, p. 144 ].

Access to the cloister was restricted and the monks observed silence here, which meant that this was well suited to meditation and prayer. The south, east and west cloister walkways essentially functioned as passageways, while the north alley was used extensively by the monks who sat here on stone benches to read, meditate and perhaps also to copy manuscripts.

In the later Middle Ages there were carrels or desks here for the monks.(3) The novice-master might instruct novices here and the whole community gathered in the north cloister walk for the daily Collation reading.(4) The cloister would have been warm and bright in the summer, but the monks would have found it rather bleak during the chilly winter months. When it was extremely cold they were permitted to read in the chapter-house, instead.

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