The Cloisters

Way up in the wilds of the extreme North end of Manhattan, you’ll find, perched on a rocky ledge overlooking the Hudson, a jumble of medieval French ecclesiastical buildings, filled with precious art works from the Middle Ages. This is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s outpost for housing its impressive collection of medieval art, and it couldn’t be a more beautiful or inspiring place if it tried, not to mention a wonderfully cool, calm and relaxing retreat from the hot summer streets of Manhattan.

A couple of weekends ago, I boarded the A train up to 190th street, complete with bag full of homemade cake and plums, (very Famous Five) to meet Jenny for our excursion to The Cloisters. When I got off the subway, which itself is housed in a medieval style building, I found myself in Fort Tryon Park, a breathtakingly stunning place filled with beautiful walkways and lawns stretching along the cliffs that run down to the Hudson, providing incredible views across the river to New Jersey.  I also found Jenny waiting for me, and she told me the wonderfully coincidental news that she had just bumped into Jenny and Teresa of Shelf Love, who were visiting New York with college friends. We made plans to catch up with them inside, and then meandered our way through the park and up to the Cloisters.

My first glimpse took my breath away; I could quite easily have believed that I had suddenly been transported to rural France. Stained glass windows, terracotta roof tiles, turrets…it has it all. Jenny and I wandered inside, to be met by that uniquely still, cool, slightly musty air you only seem to get inside churches and castles, and as we went from room to room, filled with the dappled light from stained glass windows and the twinkling of beautifully wrought precious metals, it was as if Manhattan had totally ceased to exist.

I can’t praise The Cloisters enough; there is truly something for everyone. You can view burial caskets, paintings, intricate tapestries, carvings, sculptures, an amazing array of gold and silver treasures, stained glass, ecclesiastical vestments and wonderful architecture, alongside authentic medieval herbs and flowers in the gardens, not to mention the spectacular river views. Partly due to its out of the way location, it doesn’t get particularly busy, which adds to its charm. Jenny and I sat for a long time chatting in the cloisters, enjoying the cool shade and the peace and quiet, feeling like we were on holiday in Umbria.

After meeting Jenny, Teresa and their friends in the lovely cafe set amidst the gardens, Jenny and I wandered off back through gorgeous Fort Tryon Park to the subway station, stopping to take in the views along the way. Hilariously we came across a group of film students making a terrible looking prequel to Harry Potter, involving Snape and Lily Potter holding hands and walking down a hillside, repeatedly. Watch out for that coming to cinemas some day…hopefully never! Speaking of Harry Potter, I saw the finale last night…I still think I should have been Hermione (I was robbed!) but it was fantastic, and a fitting end to a series that has been a prominent part of my childhood. I laughed and I cried, and I must say, Alan Rickman really has stolen the show throughout all of the films. No one else could quite have perfected that lip curl as he did, and portrayed such a tortured and brave soul!


    1. The Cloisters were constructed from architectural remains of several medieval buildings and are a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was made possible by a large endowment from John D. Rockefeller. I’m sure you can Google it for lots more info. EllenB from NYC

      1. The Cloisters looks fabulous. But are they really medieval French buildings? How on earth did they get there?

        Thanks Ellen – I should have Googled it anyway, I was just being lazy! What an incredible thing to do.

  1. oh wow. What a find. How do you dig these places up? My brother-in-law lived in Brooklyn for years, and he has never mentioned this stuff to us when we visit… You are Queen of Digging Up Things in Foreign Cities. I salute you. 🙂

    liz in Texas

      1. Hi,
        I enjoyed your write up of the Cloisters very much. When I sent post cards from there on my first trip to NYC, I think my family and friends wondered if I’d actually sneaked off to Europe!
        Ruth in Vancouver

  2. It was so wonderful to see you again! I am still astonished that we ran into you guys. And the Cloisters are amazing. I’d recommend a visit to anyone with the slightest interest in medieval art.

    1. I know, what a coincidence! It was so lovely to get to see you again, and meet Jenny too! Isn’t it just the most gorgeous place?! I’d love to go back and see it in the depths of winter…

  3. I’m so glad you got to visit the Cloisters. Isn’t it amazing! Being there is like being transported to another place and time. I just love it. What a special place, and a lot of people don’t seem to know about it.

    1. It really is, isn’t it? Definitely the place to go for an escape from the city. I am surprised by how few people have heard of it, though I don’t think the Met particularly advertises it and its location would no doubt leave it off most people’s radars.

  4. That looks amazing! I had no idea such a thing existed. If I ever make it to New York, I have to visit there. But then the Metropolitan Museum of Art is high on my to-see list.

  5. Mm, that herb garden is one of my absolute favorite NYC spots. I love looking at all the names of the plants – rue/herb-of-grace, and woad, and then all the more familiar ones, the lavender and lemon balm and anise.

  6. You really must compile your blogs from this year and put them into a book, Rachel. You have explored more of NYC and its environs and read more American literature than most folks I know who lived their entire lives here. If nothing else, your darling nephews will one day look at it all in wonder of their aunt.

    I never knew of the Cloisters. I know if I ever get there, I will be lost in its beautify for hours and hours and you know I would be down on my knees smelling each of those magnificent herbs.

    1. Oh thank you, Penny, how sweet you are! I am planning something of that nature so we’ll see if I can get the chance to bring it to fruition.

      Oh Penny I know you would be in heaven at The Cloisters, and in Fort Tryon park too – I hope you will get to see it one day.

  7. I’m so glad I visited the Cloisters when I first went to New York – it was beautiful on a sunny day. It was thanks to my Michelin Green Guide of New York which made it a *** must see site. It was hardly mentioned in other guide books.

    1. I’m so pleased you got to see it, Annabel – I’m surprised by how few of the most interesting and beautiful things in New York make it into the guidebooks. It’s all Empire State Building, Bloomingdales etc…boring. Manhattan is so much more than that!

  8. I love the Cloisters. I went there specifically to see the Bury St. Edmunds cross that was the subject of Thomas Hoving’s terrific book King of the Confessors. It’s an amazing art story, detective story, and history story.
    I’m happy that you’ve found so many special places to visit while you were here. You’ve gone to many places that those of us who live here have never even heard about (although, like you, I look for those places!).

    1. I haven’t heard of that story, Joan! I shall look it up! Thank you – I am too. To have a year to explore has been such a delight and a blessing and has enabled me to see the city in a way I know I never would have done if I had been just a tourist.

  9. Aren’t the Cloisters magical? My friend proposed to his fiance there, what a great place to do it. I haven’t been in years, but I’d like to go back before the end of this summer.

    As for your career path…why not move to the Dalmation coast and become a teacher of English whilst you spend your nights swimming in caverns and coves and painting by the fireside? Lord knows if an American can teach English, a Brit can do it so much better!

    1. Yes, totally magical! What a lovely place to be proposed to! I shall have to file that away in my ‘things to leave subtly lying around when I am with someone I want to marry’ folder on my computer!

      Oh goodness, Daniel…wouldn’t that be bliss? Want to be my Nicholas and I can be your Lady Grace? I bet we’d have a whale of a time! 🙂

  10. The Cloisters look beautiful. There is so much scope for imagination. (I’m on my way to PEI at the end of this month so I’m in my Anne with an ‘e’ mode.) But seriously, it is gorgeous and I agree with Penny aka lifeonthecuttoff. There is a book in your story of exploring New York and the surrounding area. You have had a marvelous adventure. You have seen more of NYC than many New Yorkers and it should be read by more than those of us who read your blog.

    1. Oh Janet, you lucky lucky thing! How I long to go to PEI! I hope you have a marvellous time!

      Thank you very much for your encouragement – I am working on something!

  11. Mmm, that was a fun day. I wish that the Harry Potter video could be on YouTube, though, because I would only be happier about that day if it turned out to be possible to see the Harry Potter thing in all its finished glory.

    1. Wasn’t it? I am going to miss our fun days 😦 Oh good lord – I need to find that video. I just don’t understand what exactly they were trying to achieve…all they did was walk around holding books!

  12. I was in New York last year, I wish I’d know about this place! It does look very Tuscan, and as Italy and New York are my two favourite places, I think I may have just found my spiritual home! Tuscany in New York, with a subway to Bloomingdales. Why am I still sitting here?

    1. Oh what a shame you missed it, Emily! However, as I say now my time is drawing to an end…it’s always good to have a reason to come back! I hope you’ll get to come again and go a bit further uptown to The Cloisters – apparently it’s gorgeous in Autumn too so you could book yourself a mini break for October and come on over!

  13. Hi Rachel, I’ve enjoyed your Cloisters post. There is something mystical and romantic and spiritual about cloisters and cathedrals and ancient sites. I’m really drawn to tranquil, sacred spaces like this where the world seems to go away… Thanks for sharing your outing.

    1. Thanks Merenia, I’m glad you liked it! Isn’t there just? I really felt so calm and at peace while I was there – definitely a feeling I don’t have enough of these days!

  14. May I recommend Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk to you? It was one of the seminal New York novels of the 1950s, and you will understand New York girls/women of that period, as never before, if you read it. I recommend it to you particularly because a couple of key scenes take place in The Cloisters!

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