Medieval Monasticism- “The Cloisters” as a case study.
This text is meant to serve as a guide for any visit to The Cloisters by a student. All students should, either in person or via the Internet, attempt to make comparisons with this ‘real’ monastery and the general descriptions of monasteries discussed in class.
This text was compiled by Mr.V while visiting “The Cloisters” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City). It’s structure has been formatted for clarity, but not so much beyond it’s original ‘note style’ form.
A pilgrimage would involve a journey, by a follower of the faith, to a place of religious significance. These places would often contain relics of religious importance to the faithful. The relics gave the pilgrim a sense that he/ she was physically close to the figure or event that produced the relic.
Other cultures with traditions that elevate icons/ relics to religious significance were the Aztecs. In that culture, the umbilical cords of males would be buried in a field that was once the site of a battle. Hence, upon birth a male Aztec was destined to pursue the martial arts of war and seek a final resting place on a battlefield (to be born again in the presence of Huitzilopochtli and accompany that deity on his daily journey across the sky).
Of course, our present culture has its share of icons/ relics. Some of these are not religious in nature, but serve the same purpose of closing the temporal and geographic gap that separates one from a particular time and place. I offer, for example, a parent’s wish to hold on to a child’s first tooth. Or a couple who must remain separate, but attempt to reduce their unhappiness by exchanging a lock of hair.
The fame of any pilgrimage site was proportional to the number and specific nature of the relics in its possession. Relics were a necessary part of the establishment of a church.
A pilgrimage was performed as part of penitence, to find and view relics, or to acquire relics as a momento. The most popular pilgrimage sites were Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostella (legendary tomb of James ‘The Greater’, who along with Peter and John, were with Jesus in the garden after the Last Supper).
A pilgrim could display a badge that indicated which pilgrimage site he/ she visited. For example, ‘two crossed keys’ acted as the badge for pilgrims who visited Rome.
For Your Consideration:
1. What is a ‘Pilgrim’? Why would someone go on a pilgrimage?
2. What is a relic? Why would anyone wish to see/ touch it?
3. How might you explain the popularity of pilgrimages during the High Middle Ages?
4. Please do a web search for a pilgrim badge that looks like two crossed keys. Why might this, or other badges, be considered a ‘badge of honor’?
Ponder: Did anything you read, regarding a pilgrimage and relics, remind you of a place, event, or tradition from your family?