The Cloister were, in pre-Reformation days, one of the busiest parts of the monastic precincts and, with windows filled with glass, rushes strewn on the floor and braziers burning, would have been cosier than they seem today. They were used by the monks for meditation and exercise, besides providing access to the main monastic buildings.
In the West Cloister, the novices were instructed by the Novice Master. Also located here was the washing place. The north walk was for private study, equipped with bookcases and tables and seats below the windows. The south walk was the way to the Refectory where meals were taken, while the east walk led to the Chapter House.
It was in the East Cloister, in monastic times, that the Abbot held his Maundy on the Thursday of Holy Week each year. Thirteen aged men were seated on a stone bench and the Abbot washed their feet, wiped them with a towel and then kissed them. He then gave each man three pence, seven red herrings, some ale and three loaves of bread. Simultaneously, in the South Walk, the monks washed the feet of children, where their Maundy seat, 'a faire, long bench of stone', still exists.
Each of the four Cloisters is approximately 100 feet in length, dating mainly from the 13th to the 15th centuries. The Cloisters were rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1298.
The Chapter House is in the East Cloister and was the place where the day-to-day business of the monastery was discussed and tasks allocated. The Chapter House was also the place where Parliament met in the 14th century before transferring across the road to the Palace of Westminster.
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