ENERGY: DAYS AT THE CLOISTERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Unicorn in Captivity I Tapestry Wall Art Hanging

This first one is the Unicorn captured. To capture a unicorn, you needed a woman. A virgin. Because that was the only thing that could make a Unicorn tame.

This is one of the myths of the Unicorn — but there are many others.


Once upon a time in a kingdom far-far-away in the lands of the never-ending spring, a king sat in his golden throne and ruled his kingdom in perfect harmony. A person can feel nothing but exuberance at the sight of the magnificent castle in which the king and his daughter lived, the majestic atmosphere of the woods spread all around the castle, and last but not least – the overwhelming beauty of the princess.

It was pure Heaven-on-Earth; there was nothing that could even possibly attain the perfection of this place. The beauty of the forest made it amazing, yet another thing made it imposing. In those woods lived creatures of time unknown and one of them was the most precious of them all… and was hunted for centuries for its magical horn – the beast known as a unicorn.

One day a rumor started spreading. Someone saw a white creature with the looks of a horse, yet having a beautiful horn… and suddenly all men grabbed their knives and spears, their blood lust and fierceness. The hunt had begun.

While the king’s men were all setting torches on fire and sharpening their tools, the young princess was at her chamber, brushing her beautiful silky blond hair. She was the purest maiden in the whole kingdom with a heart as tender as a rose and a soul as clean as the water from the Fountain of Youth in the woods. She had an adventurous spirit and that day she decided to take a walk in the surrounding forests. Pushed by the desire to pick some fresh flowers, she left the castle and headed towards the woods.

With all beauty of the trees and flowers and the crystal cleanness of the mineral springs she lost track of time and wandered around for hours and hours and suddenly, she was very deep into the woods.

She started realizing that the woods were getting darker and darker and the trees were losing their beauty, the grass was dead and there were no animals around. She started getting scared and remembered a story heard long ago from her nanny, a story about the Dark Forest, deep inside the beautiful surrounding woods. Everyone believed it was just a legend, that it wasn’t a real place, but right at that moment, she was thinking it over. “Could it be trouble …” she couldn’t even finish her thought when tree branches started grabbing her legs and arms and taking her deeper and deeper into the forest …

The creature was stepping lightly onto the grass, slowly moving between the trees, heading towards the little glade where she was lying unconsciously. As approaching, it saw the purity of the girl in front of him and slowly began to trust that innocent maid.

When the unicorn got to her, he bent his neck down and looked at her beautiful face and slowly lied down next to her. After a while, she woke up and firstly got a little scared, yet after looking at its harmless black eyes, she felt safe. Then the white beast stood up and let her get on its back and they both headed towards the castle. The princess was charmed by that creature’s innocence and nobility, by its graceful movements between the trees and its gentle steps on the grass – pure harmony.

When they reached the castle and went inside the stone walls all of a sudden, a lot of armed people surrounded them and the unicorn started neighing and moving abruptly. The princess got down on the ground and started screaming and telling the men that this creature saved her life and brought her back to the castle. When the king came, she explained to him everything that happened and he, while crying, told her that everyone had gotten worried about her. He hugged his precious daughter and looked at the terrified beast. Not until then he did realize that the unicorn is the purest and the most innocent creatures of them all.

During the feast that night, it was pronounced that the unicorn is a sacred animal and it was forbidden hunting it. After saving the young princess, the beast left the castle and never got back. No one ever saw it again, but now all men knew the truth about the unicorn.

It is said that the king’s daughter met the unicorn again, yet that is a different story….


In the upper area of Manhattan island, one of the five boroughs of New York, there is a relatively small museum called “The Cloisters.” It was brought to New York, stone by stone, from Europe and reconstructed on a hill overlooking the Hudson River.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “The Cloisters.”

I was a devotee of the Cloisters. When I could cut school, which as the years went on, I did often, I was never nabbed for cutting classes or being out of school on a school day because I didn’t go to the mall or a bowling alley. I went to the Cloisters. Sometimes, I went to one of the other museums, especially if they had a new exhibit, but the Cloisters was always my favorite.

I would sit on the ramparts overlooking the river and pretend the little boats were medieval ships carrying British wool across the channel to the continent or whatever those ships did. Imagination is wonderful and requires no binding to reality.

Hunting the Unicorn

The Metropolitan Cloisters is located on four acres overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park. It is the branch of the Museum dedicated to the art, architecture, and gardens of medieval Europe.

Deriving its name from the medieval cloisters that form the core of the building, it presents a harmonious and evocative setting for more than 2,000 exceptional artworks and architectural elements from the medieval West.

Capturing the unicorn

On Sundays, they would have “monks” roaming around the building chanting. There were stone caskets with sculptures of the kings, queens, and other nobles who were the original inhabitants of them. And on the walls, hung a reproduced set of the Unicorn Tapestries.

There were four of them in total and I believe there are variations of these tapestries throughout Europe.

In those years, I could walk museums and their grounds from dawn to dark until they finally threw us out. I had the energy of youth and was discovering my passion for medievalism. It never wore off, either. I could still happily wander those rooms forever.

Who knows why we develop a passion for a particular period of time in history? It had nothing to do with my particular ancestors, but I had a picture of myself, wimple wrapped around my face walking slowly and gracefully through the gardens and spying the perfect face of the unicorn watching me from amidst the trees.

Metropolitan Museum of Art – The fighting Unicorn

You can buy copies of the tapestries. Beautiful copies of them, suitable for hanging in your home. But we have no room for anything more in our house. Not one picture, statue, or collectible. We are full up, so I will dream on of the tapestries and the unicorn and spending an entire day on my feet, walking slowly through the gardens and softly darkened chambers of that museum.

Of the many things I wish I could do, museum wandering is one of those I miss most.

FOWC with Fandango — Tapestry
RDP# Tuesday Prompt: ENERGY

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

36 thoughts on “ENERGY: DAYS AT THE CLOISTERS – Marilyn Armstrong”

    1. It’s the least well-known museum in New York and it’s really hard to find. Way up in the north, just on the border with the Bronx. But it IS beautiful. I suppose it’s not included because not everyone is as enthusiastic as I am about medieval stuff. Most people are interested in more modern things.

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      1. The Cloisters is featured in a pivotal scene in one of my favorite movies, “Portrait of Jennie”. It has an ethereal look in the film. Never been there in person.

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  1. The colours and detail in this series of tapestries is just incredible. I believe a reproduction was made for Stirling Castle in Scotland a while back using traditional techniques. I remember visiting the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in Paris many years ago, in one of the museums… nowhere near as colourful or detailed, but equally intriguing.

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    1. I know there are quite a few Unicorn tapestries. The copies in New York are probably the most famous, but they always broke my heart a little, the trapped Unicorn. At least they didn’t murder him!

      I wonder how many versions of that myth exist? I’m sure hundreds of them were sung by bards throughout England and Europe. It’s great that there is ONE place in New York where you can pretend “you are there.”

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    1. Its buildings are centered around four cloisters—the Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem, Bonnefont and Trie—which, following their acquisition by American sculptor and art dealer George Grey Barnard, were dismantled in Europe between 1934 and 1939 and relocated to New York.

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  2. Oh my gosh! I grew up just a long block from Fort Tryon Park and as a high school student we used to hang out in the park on the lawns. I know the Cloisters so well! It is a part of my youth!

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    1. I had to come all the way from Queens, which was a lot of subways and buses, but I loved the place and I got really good at negotiating the subways. Back then, they were only 15 cents.

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  3. Yes you can spend a lot of time in a museum for sure. Stimulates the imagination! The Wonders!
    Went to a museum in Baltimore once. Each floor was a different era of History. You’d get off the elevator and it was like a time machine.

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    1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was like that. The entrance was Egyptian — mummies et all and as you advanced, each era was a little more modern. The bathrooms were all at the back, so going was truly “time machine” — on the way and back again!

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    1. I always knew that Paris was full of wonderful museums. We would truly love to come. There’s just this little issue of plane fares and money. There’s some kind of fate that when you have the money to travel, you have no time to do it, but when you have the time, you also don’t have money.

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