Looking at Buildings

Building Types


The Setting of the Great Church

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Gloucester Cathedral, Monastic precinct

The great church was originally only the largest element in a sophisticated complex of buildings serving the clergy, which might occupy as much as a quarter of the built up area of a medieval city. The cathedral precinct included separate residences for the Bishop and senior clergy.

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Wells Cathedral. Chapter House
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Gloucester Cathedral, Cloister

Many cathedrals were also monasteries, providing often lavish accommodation for a community of monks. The regular form of the monastic layout follows principles established on the continent by the 10th to 11th century, although apparently adopted in England only after the Conquest. It included a cloister with covered walks beside the naveGlossary Term of the church, with a chapter houseGlossary Term on the east side for the daily meetings of the community. The buildings for communal domestic life were grouped around the cloister; generally with the refectory on the side opposite the church and the dormitory on the east side, and the Infirmary, in the form of an arcaded hall with attached chapel, placed separately to the east of the cloister.

In the later Middle Ages, many monastic buildings were remodelled to provide less austere living conditions. The Gloucester Cathedral cloister walks were lavishly rebuilt in the 14th century with fan-vaulting and glazed windows, at a time when the abbey prospered after it had become the burial place of King Edward II.


Chapter house

The place of assembly for the members of a monastery or cathedral, usually located off the east side of the cloister.


An enclosed quadrangle in a monastery or by a church, surrounded by covered passages; by extension, any space so enclosed. Cloister garth: the area enclosed by a cloister.


The body of a church west of the crossing or chancel, often flanked by aisles.