Informative, fun, and interesting are the first three words that come to my mind when I think about my experience at the Cloisters Museum in New York City. For those of you who may not be familiar with the Cloisters Museum, it’s okay. I was wasn’t either until a day before this trip. The Cloisters Museum is a part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art with exhibits that include art and artifacts from twelfth to the fifteenth century of medieval Europe. There are even salvaged architectural elements built into the museum, which makes the experience truly original. There are not many places where one can see medieval European art and artifacts inside a medieval European influenced building, at least not in the United States.
When Dr. Christina Francis, my Medieval Literature professor here at Bloomsburg University, explained to my class that this trip would be a part of a class lesson, I was not too sure about the trip. Driving to a museum that is dedicated to a topic, the medieval world, that I was not familiar with, with a group of people I don’t really know, did not sound like my ideal Sunday. Regardless, I had to go. It was a part of class, and the medieval class itself was geared towards the analysis of the literary works of medieval Europe. I knew that this trip would give me a better understanding of the work and I was right! All I can say is I am extremely happy I walked away with the experience I did.
For starters, as I explained, the Cloisters itself is a building that contains parts of monasteries from medieval Europe. I was able to get a first-hand experience of architecture that was common during the time period we were studying. Inside, I was surrounded by art and artifacts from the medieval world. There was even a garden that was home to vegetation and plants that lived and were used, studied, or written about in this time period. As a class, we talked about different displays the museum had to offer, like the tapestry and its significance to the time period, stories, history, and art. We also spent a lot of time looking at the religious pieces because religion had a huge influence on the medieval world. I learned a lot about relics and the expensive garnishing of the Catholic Church.
Personally, two of my favorite pieces were the stained glass windows and the rosary with the skull. Both of these pieces are elegant yet hint at death or punishment, which from what I took away from my experience at the museum was a big theme of the medieval world. Everything from the sculptures to paintings, as you can see in the window and rosary, is extremely well crafted and detailed. They are garnished and well put together, yet there is always a hint of death or punishment, something ugly amongst beauty, like sin, always prominent in life. This reflects the influence the Catholic Church had on every part of medieval life. People of that time were obsessed with the idea of body and soul. They wanted a lavish life on Earth, but they were constantly reminded about their soul and where it could end up, if they did not live a righteous life. That is one of the biggest things I have taken away from this trip and my medieval class. The idea of the Catholic Church having a strong presence and influence over people and their actions. The thought of death and what happens to one’s soul after it, alone has influenced a good portion of the writings, art, and actions of this time period and I believe it is reflected well in the two pieces I chose as my favorites.
One of the best experiences had to come from not only seeing medieval life, but being able to experience it first-hand. Outside, on the grounds of the museum, there was a medieval fair. There was food, costumes, and venders that all looked like they came straight from art that was inside the walls of the museum. I was even able to hear live readings of books we were reading in class. I was experiencing what I was studying and that made learning and retaining information easier.
One of the most memorable parts of the fair had to be when I was able to see a live jousting match. It had to be one of the coolest experiences I’ve had on a school trip and honestly, it did not even feel like a school trip. It felt like an outing with friends, an outing full of educational experiences; but like I said, it was a fun time. Hopefully other classes get to experience this. I can’t think of a better way to bring a class together and get lessons through to students than by putting them in an environment full of what they are learning and letting them see and experience it first hand with one another.
In my opinion, this trip shaped the structure for the rest of the class this semester. After the trip, I felt like every aspect of class became more interesting. I noticed a difference in the first class following the trip. Since we had all spent the day in New York together, we were able to get to know one another and that added to the discussions and input from the class, in my opinion. Everyone seemed to open up more during discussions. Maybe it was because we all were more comfortable talking about class topics. People were more willing to share thoughts and ideas to friends compared to strangers who one thinks could judge them. The trip also gave me a face for the name kind of deal. Everything we saw at the Cloisters was either talked about or was going to be talked about in class. The visuals really helped me understand the concepts of the class, which again was geared towards the analysis of this time period. The collection of art and artifacts at the museum alone gave us a lot of things to connect back to our readings which helped us make clearer and more precise connections to the thoughts that influenced the writings of the medieval period.