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  Plan of Roche abbey showing the cloister(1/2)
Roche Abbey: the cloister

The cloister stood at the centre of the precinct, where it was sheltered from noise and disruption. Access to outsiders was restricted and silence was observed, making this an appropriate atmosphere for monks to devote themselves to reading, meditation and prayer. The cloister at Roche lay to the south of the church and dates from Osmund’s abbacy (1184-1213). It was made up of an open grassy space which was surrounded by four roofed walkways, but unfortunately all that survives of these is the plinth.

Steps leading from the church into the cloister
<click to enlarge>
Steps leading from the abbey church into the cloister

The cloister was at the heart of liturgical ceremony and ritual. Processions, such as those on Palm Sunday, Ascension Day and Assumption Day started off in the church and then entered the cloister through a doorway in the southern aisle of the nave, and down a series of convex semi-circular steps. The party stopped first at the eastern range, then at the refectory and finally at the western range. The entire community participated in these processions, which were led by the abbot or prior who was followed by the rest of the community walking in pairs. At the Blessing of the Water on Sundays, one of the monastic officers sprinkled water and salt around the cloister in an act of exorcism, while the community offered blessings in the church.

The cloister was also the setting for the weekly Maundy, the ritual washing of the monks’ feet which took place in the south of the cloister each Saturday afternoon between the Collation reading and Compline, namely, c. 3.30 pm or 4 pm in winter, and c. 7pm in summer.