Escape the City (from within the City): The Cloisters

For the majority of my adult life, I’ve worked and lived in major East Coast cities. I enjoy city life. Much like many city dwellers, I occasionally find myself overwhelmed by the crowds and the noise and need to touch a quieter life. More so these days.

Recently, my wife introduced me to a sanctuary from the commotion and pressure of the urban world.  Believe it or not, such a place exists right in Manhattan in Ft. Tryon Park. For a few hours, I lost myself in the magic of the Cloisters.

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When stepping into a garden at the Cloisters, I felt myself entering an enchanted world. Centuries and modernity slipped away.

Interestingly enough, the Cloisters themselves are a precisely designed work of art. John D. Rockefeller Jr. financed the planning and construction of Ft. Tryon Park and the museum. He donated the museum’s original art collection. In order to preserve the Cloisters’ serene views of the Hudson River, Rockefeller purchased land on the Palisades in New Jersey. One can’t imagine today’s tech overlords exhibiting such a sense of philanthropy and civic virtue.

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A glimpse of the Hudson River through stained glass. The sunrise must be majestic.

Art and artifacts from European abbeys and churches sit in every chamber. Whenever I turned a corner or simply studied a section of a ceiling, I found another visual surprise. Beauty rested everywhere.

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A depiction of the temptation of Christ. One of my favorite Gospel stories.

In a world before the Enlightenment and secularization, good and evil were real. Almost tangible. The fate of one’s soul remained a constant worry.

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Notice the capital of the pillar: such reliefs were designed to inspire reflection and contrition. This appears to be a demon tormenting souls.

Some art paired pious reflection with a sense of whimsy.

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Detail from one of the Unicorn Tapestries. Yes, I snapped a photo of the cats.

Cloisters 4I could heap words of praise and astonishment upon the Cloisters, describing the multi-sensory experience of the herb garden or the dramatic placement of the Catholic-inspired clothing featured in the Heavenly Bodies exhibit. But, I’ll refrain from doing so.

If you’re pining for a refuge from the city or, more profoundly, feel the pull of the divine, make a trip to the Cloisters. You’ll leave feeling refreshed, inspired, and moved.

 

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