CLOISTER (Lat. claustrum; Fr. cloître; Ital. chiostro; Span. claustro; Ger. Kloster). The word "cloister," though now restricted to the four-sided enclosure, surrounded with covered ambulatories, usually attached to coventual and cathedral churches, and sometimes to colleges, or by a still further limitation to the ambulatories themselves, originally signified the entire monastery. In this sense it is of frequent occurrence in earlier English literature (e.g. Shakespeare, Meas. for Meas. i. 3, "This day my sister should the cloister enter"), and is still employed in poetry. The Latin claustrum, as its derivation implies, primarily denoted no more than the enclosing wall of a religious house, and then came to be used for the whole building enclosed within the wall. To this sense the German "Kloster" is still limited, the covered walks, or cloister in the modern sense, being called "Klostergang," or "Kreuzgang." In French the word cloître retains the double sense.
In the special sense now most common, the word "cloister" denotes the quadrilateral area in a monastery or college of canons, round which the principal buildings are ranged, and which is usually provided with a covered way or ambulatory running all round, and affording a means of communication between the various centres of the ecclesiastical life, without exposure to the weather. According to the Benedictine arrangement, which from its suitability to the requirements of monastic life was generally adopted in the West, one side of the cloister was formed by the church, the refectory occupying the side opposite to it, that the worshippers might have the least annoyance from the noise or smell of the repasts. On the eastern side the chapter-house was placed, with other apartments belonging to the common life of the brethren adjacent to it, and, as a common rule, the dormitory occupied the whole of the upper story. On the opposite or western side were generally the cellarer's lodgings, with the cellars and store-houses, in which the provisions necessary for the sustenance of the confraternity were housed. In Cistercian monasteries the western side was usually occupied by the "domus conversorum," or lodgings of the lay-brethren, with their day-rooms and workshops below, and dormitory above. The cloister, with its surrounding buildings, generally stood on the south side of the church, to secure as much sunshine as possible. A very early example of this disposition is seen in the plan of the monastery of St Gall (see Abbey, fig. 3). Local requirements, in some instances, caused the cloister to be placed to the north of the church. This is the case in the English cathedrals, formerly Benedictine abbeys, of Canterbury, Gloucester and Chester, as well as in that of Lincoln. Other examples of the northward situation are at Tintern, Buildwas and Sherborne. Although the covered ambulatories are absolutely essential to the completeness of a monastic cloister, a chief object of which was to enable the inmates to pass from one part of the monastery to another without inconvenience from rain, wind, or Sun, it appears that they were sometimes wanting. The cloister at St Albans seems to have been deficient in ambulatories till the abbacy of Robert of Gorham, 1151-1166, when the eastern walk was erected. This, as was often the case with the earliest ambulatories, was of wood covered with a sloping roof or "penthouse." We learn from Osbern's account of the conflagration of the monastery of Christ Church, Canterbury, 1067, that a cloister with covered ways existed at that time, affording communication between the church, the dormitory and the refectory. We learn from an early drawing of the monastery of Canterbury that this cloister was formed by an arcade of Norman arches supported on shafts, and covered by a shed roof. A fragment of an arcaded cloister of this pattern is still found on the eastern side of the infirmary-cloister of the same foundation. This earlier form of cloister has been generally superseded in England by a range of windows, usually unglazed, but sometimes, as at Gloucester, provided with glass, lighting a vaulted ambulatory, of which the cloisters of Westminster Abbey, Salisbury and Norwich are typical examples. The older design was preserved in the South, where "the cloister is never a window, or anything in the least approaching to it in design, but a range of small elegant pillars, sometimes single, sometimes coupled, and supporting arches of a light and elegant design, all the features being of a character suited to the place where they are used, and to that only" (Fergusson, Hist. of Arch. i. p. 610). As examples of this description of cloister, we may refer to the exquisite cloisters of St John Lateran, and St Paul's without the walls, at Rome, where the coupled shafts and arches are richly ornamented with ribbons of mosaic, and those of the convent of St Scholastica at Subiaco, all of the 13th century, and to the beautiful cloisters at Arles, in southern France; those of Aix, Fontfroide, Elne, etc., are of the same type; as also the Romanesque cloisters at Zürich, where the design suffers from the deep abacus having only a single slender shaft to support it, and at Laach, where the quadrangle occupies the place of the "atrium" of the early basilicas at the west end, as at St Clement's at Rome, and St Ambrose at Milan. Spain also presents some magnificent cloisters of both types, of which that of the royal convent of Huelgas, near Burgos, of the arcaded form, is, according to Fergusson, "unrivalled for beauty both of detail and design, and is perhaps unsurpassed by anything in its age and style in any part of Europe." Few cloisters are more beautiful than those of Monreale and Cefalu in Sicily, where the arrangement is the same, of slender columns in pairs with capitals of elaborate foliage supporting pointed arches of great elegance of form.
All other cloisters are surpassed in dimensions and in sumptuousness of decoration by the "Campo Santo" at Pisa. This magnificent cloister consists of four ambulatories as wide and lofty as the nave of a church, erected in 1278 by Giovanni Pisano round a cemetery composed of soil brought from Palestine by Archbishop Lanfranchi in the middle of the 12th century. The window-openings are semicircular, filled with elaborate tracery in the latter half of the 15th century. The inner walls are covered with frescoes invaluable in the history of art by Orcagna, Simone Memmi, Buffalmacco, Benozzo Gozzoli, and other early painters of the Florentine school. The ambulatories now serve as a museum of sculpture. The internal dimensions are 415 ft. 6. in. in length, 137 ft. 10 in. in breadth, while each ambulatory is 34 ft. 6. in. wide by 46 ft. high.
The cloister of a religious house was the scene of a large part of the life of the inmates of a monastery. It was the place of education for the younger members, and of study for the elders. A canon of the Roman council held under Eugenius II., in 826, enjoins the erection of a cloister as an essential portion of an ecclesiastical establishment for the better discipline and instruction of the clerks. Peter of Blois (Serm. 25) describes schools for the novices as being in the west walk, and moral lectures delivered in that next the church. At Canterbury the monks' school was in the western ambulatory, and it was in the same walk that the novices were taught at Durham (Willis, Monastic Buildings of Canterbury, p. 44; Rites of Durham, p. 71). The other alleys, especially that next the church, were devoted to the studies of the elder monks. The constitutions of Hildemar and Dunstan enact that between the services of the church the brethren should sit in the cloister and read theology. For this purpose small studies, known as "carrols," i.e. a ring or enclosed space, were often found in the recesses of the windows. Of this arrangement there are examples at Gloucester, Chester and elsewhere. The use of these studies is thus described in the Rites of Durham: - "In every wyndowe" in the north alley "were iii pewes or carrells, where every one of the olde monkes had his carrell severally by himselfe, that when they had dyned they dyd resorte to that place of cloister, and there studyed upon their books, every one in his carrell all the afternonne unto evensong tyme. This was there exercise every daie." On the opposite wall were cupboards full of books for the use of the students in the carrols. The cloister arrangements at Canterbury were similar to those just described. New studies were made by Prior De Estria in 1317, and Prior Selling (1472-1494) glazed the south alley for the use of the studious brethren, and constructed "the new framed contrivances, of late styled carrols" (Willis, Mon. Buildings, p. 45). The cloisters were used not for study only but also for recreation. The constitutions of Archbishop Lanfranc, sect. 3, permitted the brethren to converse together there at certain hours of the day. To maintain necessary discipline a special officer was appointed under the title of prior claustri. The cloister was always furnished with a stone bench running along the side. It was also provided with a lavatory, usually adjacent to the refectory, but sometimes standing in the central area, termed the cloister-garth, as at Durham. The cloister-garth was used as a place of sepulture, as well as the surrounding alleys. The cloister was in some few instances of two stories, as at Old St Paul's, and St Stephen's chapel, Westminster, and occasionally, as at Wells, Chichester and Hereford, had only three alleys, there being no ambulatory under the church wall.
The larger monastic establishments had more than one cloister; there was usually a second connected with the infirmary, of which there are examples at Westminster Abbey and at Canterbury; and sometimes one giving access to the kitchen and other domestic offices.
The cloister was not an appendage of monastic houses exclusively. It was also attached to colleges of secular canons, as at the cathedrals of Lincoln, Salisbury, Wells, Hereford and Chichester, and formerly at St Paul's and Exeter. It is, however, absent at York, Lichfield, Beverley, Ripon, Southwell and Wimborne. A cloister forms an essential part of the colleges of Eton and Winchester, and of New College and Magdalen at Oxford, and was designed by Wolsey at Christ Church. These were used for religious processions and lectures, for ambulatories for the studious at all times, and for places of exercise for the inmates generally in wet weather, as well as in some instances for sepulture.
For the arrangements of the Carthusian cloisters, as well as for some account of those appended to the monasteries of the East, see Abbey.(E. V.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)