More about cloisters

The title of my last blog, ‘Cloister’ brings to mind a talk given by Esther de Waal about the role of cloister gardens in medieval monasteries. This was at the Quiet Garden Movement’s twentieth anniversary gathering a couple of years ago.

She pointed out that the cloister garden was intended to enhance the contemplative life of the monks. The way it was laid out was designed to help them to achieve a meditative or prayerful state.

IMG_1525The cloister was always at the geographical centre of the monastery with the buildings positioned around it. The cloister itself was the covered passageway, which linked the buildings and where most of the daily life of the monastery took place.

The actual garden, or hortus conclusus, within the cloister was a simple green area of turf, divided into 4 quadrants with a fountain at the centre. This area was quiet, untouched by any activity.

The water at the ‘centre of the centre’ as she described it, provided peace and refreshment. The fountain represented the source of life, the beating heart, and was a daily reminder to the monks to cultivate the stillness within.

There must be a connection here to Islamic gardens, which are divided into quadrants with water at the centre. Maybe it’s not very surprising that it seemed important to have a fountain at the centre of our garden in Malvern.

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