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View Movies Kirkstall Abbey: the cloister

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Kirkstall Abbey lavatorium
© Abbey House Museum
Kirkstall Abbey lavatorium in 1892-6  Abbey House Museum

Whereas the south, east and west walkways essentially functioned as passageways, the north alley of the cloister was used extensively by the monks who sat here on stone benchesto read, meditate and perhaps also to copy manuscripts; the novice-master might instruct novices and the whole community gathered here each day for the Collation reading. Whilst the cloister would have been warm and bright in the summer, the monks would have found it rather bleak during the chilly winter months, and when it was extremely cold they were permitted to read in the chapter-house, instead.

The cloister was also used for more practical activities: it was here that the monks shaved, washed themselves and their clothes, and hung the laundry to dry. Remains of the range of basins (the lavabo) where the community washed their hands before entering the refectory and also where they washed their clothes can be seen to the west of the warming house.

The cloister at Kirkstall was originally about thirty-five square metres, but was enlarged in the late fifteenth century when the lane that ran between the cloister and the western range was removed and this area incorporated within the cloister.

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