Many Monasteries had a separate building called a Chapter House. Sometimes they were built along the side of the main cloister as is the case in the Cathedral of Porto in Portugal.
Porto's Cathedral music organ in the Monk's Chapter House
Some were very simply decorated in orders where poverty and devotion to God were extremely important. Other chapter houses like the one at Porto were very richly decorated with scenes from the Bible to give instruction to the monks that occupied the building.
A Chapter House is a meeting hall for members of a religious order. It is here that some orders have their meals together. There are also used like a conference room where the Abbott and other senior members of the religious order could meet to discuss the daily running of the monastery. When disputes arose between the brothers, the Chapter House was used as an arbitration room.
It was very rare that outsiders were invited into the chapter house. It was a place of seclusion from the outside world. It was also where the whole religious community meet together on a daily basis to hear readings from the Bible and where the Abbott could address all the brothers. Many monasteries and cathedrals had tenant farmers. Some chapter houses were used to collect rent or act as a court of law.
Carved wood paneling lines both walls leading up to the alter in the Chapter House of Porto's Cathedral
You will notice from the photographs that the long side of the Porto Cathedral monastic Chapter House had bench seating. The Abbot would normally have sat on a chair on the raised platform so he could preside at meetings. Behind the benches were ornately decorated carved wooden panels depicting scenes from the Bible. Above these panels huge oil paintings of a religious nature were hung to bring inspiration and awe to the monks.
This was a very wealthy order of monks that had a lot of benefactors. The organ at the far end of the building and the high altar were richly decorated with gold leaf. The frames and the carved surrounds of the wood panels were also decorated in gold.
Carved wood panels with biblical scenes were not carved from one-piece wood. If you look closely there are vertical lines going through the pictures. Five or six slats of wood were carved individually and then join together to make one picture.
This carved wood panel depicting the last supper can be found in the Chapter house.
Unfortunately the head of the snake in the banishment of Adam and Eve carved picture has been knocked off. It is interesting how the artist has used Eve's hair to hide her nakedness. Adam looks like he is wearing a nappy or is it a clump of strategically placed leaves or mud. The carving of Eve's face seems a little primitive compared with the excellent carving of Adam's face. The strength and fury of God can be seen by the way his cape is flowing and the expression on his face. It is a very good three-dimensional picture.
In the Chapter House you will find this carved depiction of the Adam and Eve story.