May 25

The Cloisters and Ft. Tryon Park

For the past couple of months, I have been working a lot of hours teaching online, in addition to the normal demands of springtime gardening activities. I needed some time off and thought a trip to a museum I had never visited would be a nice break. As usual, I took the bus to the city from Delaware Water Gap. At the Port Authority Bus Terminal I accessed the A-Train uptown to 190th St. From the 190th St. station I exited the train and took the elevator to street level. Stepping out onto Margret Corbin Drive at the entrance to Ft.Tryon Park.

Arch in Ft. Tryon Park

The park sits upon one of the highest points on Manhattan Island with a view west, across the Hudson River to the Palisades of New Jersey and south, to the George Washington Bridge. This area of Manhattan is called the Washington Heights section of Harlem and not generally frequented by tourists.

George Washington Bridge

Located within Fort Tryon Park is The Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can read an article I wrote about the MET during one of my many other visits to NYC here.

Cloisters Tower

The Cloisters offers a glimpse into the Middle Ages (12th – 15th Centuries). The museum incorporates art and architecture from the period and gives the feeling of being in a medieval abbey thereby deriving its name. It is home to nearly 5,000 works of art including a small collection of sculpture depicting religious figures. There are three Chapels, several galleries and halls consisting of Spanish frescoes, metalwork, altarpieces from France and Germany and an array of precious objects that reflect the wealth of medieval churches. The Cloisters is also home to the famed Unicorn tapestries. This set of seven separate hangings date from around 1500 A.D. and depict a hunt for the mythical beast.

The Unicorn Centerpiece

A chance to see and photograph the Unicorn Tapestries was my primary focus. Unfortunately, the lighting inside the museum is similar to that of a 15th Century monastery and thus not at all conducive to photography without the aid of a flash. As it is with most museums, the use of camera flash is not permitted. The picture above is the only Unicorn Tapestry Photo I took. So, instead of my own photos you may follow the link here to view a set of reproductions with fairly good descriptions. These fascinating tapestries are also interpreted in detail here. Each of the seven tapestries is rich with symbolism related to ancient superstitions, mysticism, tradition and ecclesiastic beliefs. The Unicorn Tapestries reveal a story within a story. Deeply entwined in the narrative are accurate representations of more than 100 plants, many of which hold their own special meanings. A few examples; Daffodil (Narcissus) was sacred to Proserpina the Roman goddess of spring (Persephone in Greek Mythology is her equivalent), English Daisy was symbolic of the Virgin Mary, Sweet Violet was believed to grown in Paradise and thought to ward off evil spirits. Certain animals are represented for their noble or not so noble characteristics. ie; The central figure is the the unicorn, with its associated attribute of purity and mystical powers, others include; dogs as a symbol of fidelity, rabbits represent fertility and in Western Culture the lowly snake is an ancient symbol for sin.

Naturally, everything within this small museum is related to Christian doctrine. Multiple depictions of Christ, The Crucifixion, The Madonna and Child, Stations of the Cross, various artistic interpretations depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments, etc. Some of the stained glass was interesting and unique.


Outside the building there are a series of three gardens in keeping with the theme of a medieval monastery. Of particular interest to me was the Bonnefont Cloister and Garden that highlights over 250 species of medicinal/”magical”, culinary herbs and plants. There were trellises and lattice work woven from willow branches and a very fine example of espalier. The monastic motif was beautiful and immaculately well maintained. Potted herbs or raised beds accommodating such rarities as Cowslip, Feverfew, Lovage, Mugwart, Pennyroyal, Rue, St. Johnswort and Wormwood were all on display. Many of these herbs are considered quaint relics. In this age of “legend drugs“, it is unfortunate that remedies once known to be effective in treating an assortment of common ailments have been disparaged by many in the practice of modern medicine. However, there is a growing resurgence of interest in these ancient remedies as a counter to the high costs and dangerous side effects associated with modern pharmaceuticals.



I was using my new Pentax K30 camera and when I first began taking pictures, I was puzzled about why I was unable to see through the viewfinder of my new camera. Without the owner’s manual to seek a remedy, I continued for nearly 2 hours taking pictures in ignorance of how to remedy the problem. After leaving the museum, I did another walk around the outside of the building and took a few more shots. It was then that I discovered I had been snapping away in the wrong function! Apparently, while extracting the camera from my pack, I had somehow inadvertently bumped the control nob from still photos to movie-mode. At this point, I had taken approximately 80 frames and was not really interested in going back to re-shoot them all. The museum had become more crowded and I had other plans for the day.

Suddenly, a lyric from a Dylan tune popped into my head: “And here I sit so patiently waiting to find out what price I have to pay to get out of going through all of these things twice.”

I could have returned to the galleries and retraced my steps but, instead I made the decision to deal with the error at home. I assumed that I could find a way to transfer the little “movies” into still frames. Surely there must be a way…right? Not with my luck. Oh the joy of technology! If not for my failure to fully comprehend it. The “price” I had to pay was a return to the Cloisters on another day to retake all those pictures. I do this for your viewing pleasure. Please understand, dear reader, the significance of this sacrifice! 🙂

In addition to this small sampling of photos please visit the Gallery here for a full compliment of pictures from this visit. .

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    • Ella on May 29, 2013 at 1:26 am
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    Kevin, I always visit your blog to find and read the news! So much fun in your life: museums, camera, and various plants! Oh and I almost forgot, beautiful poems and songs as well. I am jealous of you!!!

    • Diane on May 30, 2013 at 6:03 pm
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    The addition of the pictures in the gallery give us more of an insight to the atmosphere of this museum. A place I think would be worthwhile to spend some more time looking at the details you have shown in the photos.
    P.S. The bridge pic is very “New York”! Nice shot.

    1. Yes, thanks! I agree. The park was more than I anticipated with flower gardens, stone walkways, arches and the view over the Hudson River. The G.W. Bridge is really a magnificent structure too.

    • momo on June 6, 2013 at 12:49 am
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    I read this essay twice to gain a more accurate understanding of the material. I found the links about the unicorn to be very interesting! When I opened the link, I learned that the unicorns are guardians of the wood and glen, I really like this kind of settings. I can image an amazing, tremendous and beautiful scene when the unicorn must defend against humans and dangerous predators.
    In addition, the Symbolism of Rabbits and Hares are interesting as well. When I draw pictures, I like using rabbits or cats ear or maybe their tails in my illustrations to represent something. I consider that when people want to depict some abstract things is very hard, but drawing is a really good way to explain it, maybe that’s why drawing is my favorite.

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