Long-lost original cloister rediscovered in new exhibition
18 January 2023
Norwich Cathedral’s beautiful medieval cloister is one of the highlights of the centuries-old landmark, but a long-lost cloister once stood in its place - and the reconstruction of the original Norman cloister is now the subject of a new exhibition.
Norwich Cathedral’s Norman Cloister Rediscovered is on show in the Cathedral’s Hostry until Saturday 4 February 2023.
The exhibition’s centrepiece is a recreation of part of the previous cloister, by the Cathedral Archaeologist Dr Roland Harris. It features fragments of the original stonework that were discovered in 1900 and 2018 and gives an insight into how the first cloister would have looked.
Dr Harris explained: “The present cloister at Norwich Cathedral is a fortunate survival from the medieval monastery, notable for its great size, Gothic architecture and carved vault bosses. It is the second cloister at the cathedral, however, representing a leisurely replacement of the Norman original, which occupied the same space. Fortunately for us, the rebuilding in 1297-1430 recycled stone from its early 12th-century predecessor.
“Repairs in 1900 revealed a series of Romanesque double-capitals, turned on their sides and reused as plain masonry in the Gothic cloister. Fragments of the cloister arcade arches and a shaft were found during works in 2018, and, together with the capitals, these allow reconstruction of the form of the long-lost Norman cloister.
“The original Norman cloister had a lean-to roof, supported by a continuous arcade of small arches supported on pairs of shafts.”
Visitors to the Hostry exhibition can now explore a reconstruction of a series of these arches and enjoy close-up views of the some of the original intricately-carved stonework as they would have been viewed by the monks in the 12th century.
Norman cloisters are very rare survivals, with the only one in England that can still be viewed in its original location being the part-surviving infirmary cloister at Canterbury Cathedral.
Norwich Cathedral was originally a Benedictine monastery and both the Norman and current cloister were at the heart of the monastic complex, connecting the church, chapter house, dormitory, refectory and guest-hall (hostry). They were also spaces where the Benedictine monks would read and study, where they would wash their hands before meals, could talk at designated times during their day, and through which they would process during certain services.
Today’s Gothic cloister continues to play a key role in the life of the Cathedral, linking the 900-year-old Cathedral with the modern-day Refectory, Hostry and Library, and inspiring all who wander through its beautiful historic walkways.
Norwich Cathedral’s Norman Cloister Rediscovered is at the Cathedral’s Hostry until Saturday 4 February 2023. The exhibition is open daily from 10am to 4pm (3pm on Sundays). Entry is free.
For more information visit cathedral.org.uk