Illustrated Dictionary of British Churches

History and Architecture


A covered walk, usually enclosing a square green space, or garth, with church buildings on all sides. Cloisters are often found in monasteries and frequently in large churches. The cloister was often adjoined to the church nave, and the transept provided another side. Monastic buildings were ranged around the other two sides. Cloisters are most often found on the south side of the nave, so that they would get the sun. The covered walkway is usually separated from the garth by a stone screen or arcading, and the cloister roof can be very elaborately vaulted and decorated with bosses.

Most surviving monasteries retain some evidence of a cloister, but those connnected to cathedrals and larger churches have survived best. Among the finest remaining cloisters in Britain are those at Gloucester Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral, and a more modern example at Iona Abbey.

Related: Nave   Transept  

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