I have loved The Cloisters, the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to medieval art and architecture, since I visited it on a field trip when I was a freshman in high school. In fact, it is the setting of the second chapter of the novel I’m writing about a high school freshman who, um, visits The Cloisters on a field trip (any similarities between this story and my life are strictly <ahem> coincidental).
Near the northern tip of Manhattan in Fort Tryon Park, its location atop a wooded hill makes you think you’re far away from New York City. Standing on the terrace overlooking the Hudson River, you almost believe you are somewhere in Europe long, long ago.
The word cloister means “a covered walk in a convent, monastery, college, or cathedral, typically with a wall on one side and a colonnade open to a quadrangle on the other.” The museum building is largely assembled from architectural elements from ruins of European monasteries, with authentic columns supporting the arches of the walkways. The structure suggests, rather than duplicates, parts of the originals. There are four open courtyards, planted with herbs and flowers you might have found in a medieval garden. There is even a chapel constructed in gothic style.
Gathered within the walls of The Cloisters are masterpieces of sculptures, tapestries (including the famous Unicorn Tapestries, to which I will devote a future post), stained glass, paintings, old illustrated manuscripts, and metal artifacts. Looking at these treasures awakens a sense of wonder at the vision and craftsmanship of artists long dead. (The photographs in this article are from metmuseum.org and commons.wikimedia.org. Click on the pictures below for a better view.)
But more than anything else, it’s the setting that appeals to me. I’ve been there three times in my life, and each visit touched me deeply. I remember the place so vividly. The hushed peacefulness, despite crowds of museum guests. It is truly a sanctuary, a holy place.
Is there a place that speaks to you, that moves you to your very core? Share below in the comments.