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The Cloisters Museum of Medieval Art

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Uploaded on Apr 15, 2008

This uptown branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is worth the 45-minute subway ride from midtown (plus a pleasant 10-minute walk through Fort Tryon Park.) Perched on the tip of Manhattan, on four acres overlooking the Hudson River, the castle-like Museum is comprised of five Medieval cloisters imported from France and filled with art and artifacts. It is the largest single collection of medieval art and artifacts in the United States. The Cloisters, as described by Germain Bazin, former director of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, "the crowning achievement of American museology," is devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. The Museum building itself incorporates portions of original medieval chapels, monastic cloisters, a chapter house, and other architectural elements dating from the 12th through 15th centuries.

Perhaps the most celebrated attractions are The Unicorn Tapestries, a group of seven wall hangings that vividly portray the mythological hunt and capture of a unicorn. Other gallery objects include religious sculptures, water vessels shaped like animals, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass and ivories. Approximately five thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from about A.D. 800 with particular emphasis on the twelfth through fifteenth centuries, are exhibited in this unique museum.

Many visitors come for the building itself: one room recreates a 12th-century chapel, The Fuentiduena Chapel, and another, the Chapter House (from Notre-Dame-De-Pontaut). The chapter house was so named because the monks would sit and listen to one monk read one chapter aloud from the monastic rule book. All of the business of the monastery and even group confession also took place in the chapter house.

The monastery gardens are as breathtaking as the vistas overlooking the Hudson. The herb garden in the Bonnefont Cloister contains more than 250 species of plants which were grown during the Middle Ages. Its design is typical of a medieval monastery garden plan, but no attempt was made to replicate any one monastic garden in particular. Some kind of ceremonies or rituals accompany the picking of herbs. Some herbs were to be picked at sunrise, while looking towards the east, in silence, or without looking behind oneself. Many of these herbs are associated with love, others used for cooking and seasoning, and still others for artistic purposes.

A tour of this place truly imparts a feeling of being in another time.

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