The Cloisters were one of the busiest parts of the Abbey where the monks spent much of their time.
A fire in 1298 damaged much of the area of the cloisters of the Norman church so they had to be substantially rebuilt. Each of the cloisters is about 100 feet in length. They date mainly from the 13th to the 15th centuries and were used for meditation, exercise and providing a route into the main monastic buildings.
They would have been much cosier than they seem today. The upper parts of the windows were glazed with the lower parts open, although shutters were used for protection against bad weather. Hay and straw in winter and rushes in summer covered the stone floor and benches, and the walls were covered with paintings, with lamps hanging from the roof.
In medieval times, it was in the East Cloister that the Abbot held his Maundy on the Thursday of Holy Week each year. Thirteen elderly men were seated on a stone bench while the Abbot washed their feet, wiped them dry and kissed them. He then gave each man three pence, seven red herrings, some ale and three loaves of bread.
A memorial fountain in the cloister garth commemorates Lancelot Capability Brown. The cloisters contain the graves of several Abbots of the Norman church and also some clergymen and officials of the church, such as organists and workmen. Also some actors and actresses who were not allowed to be buried in the main church.
A barrel-vaulted passage, called the Dark Cloister, leads into the Little Cloister. This was once the area of the Infirmary during the monastic period.
You are surrounded by history at the Abbey, not like a museum where it’s just displayed, but here you are standing where history has happened.