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8-08-2015, 16:15

The Great Hall

From the great hall the lord and his family could observe everything going on in the courtyard from large windows lighting the ceremonial end of the room. The hall itself might have sculptural decoration around the entrance and windows, which through its symbolism told of the family’s lineage and importance. The visitor approaching the hall knew that he was very much on view and might identify himself by wearing distinctive colors or clothing embroidered with his heraldic coat of arms. Once the visitor crossed the open space and reached the hall, he might have to climb a staircase, although perhaps not as impressive as the bishop’s at St. David’s (see Figure 25) and perhaps enter through a porch before proceeding through corridors and perhaps a small waiting chamber into the lower end of the hall. A typical great hall was a single rectangular room with a raised dais with high table and/or throne at one end and a wooden screen at the other, which separated the hall from the service rooms and also shielded those within from drafts. The main door opened into this screens passage. The visitor had to walk the length of the hall, facing the lord enthroned on the dais, and once arriving, he was expected to kneel or bow. The hall was the center of life in the castle. In early times everyone lived and ate together there. The hall became the judicial and ceremonial center of the castle—the center of feudal power, homage, and exchange of gifts. As time passed the lord, his family, and confidants withdrew from this fellowship to private chambers; nevertheless, the lord ceremonially ate with his people at regular intervals. Feasting was a social act, reinforcing the bonds of community and mutual support and trust. The arrangement of the tables in the hall is still followed at many formal dinners today. The head table for important people is placed at one end of the room and the rest of the tables are perpendicular to it. In the medieval hall large windows lit the head table. Window seats created small private rooms within the thickness of the wall. Originally a central hearth warmed the people in the hall, but wall fireplaces and chimneys came into use by the twelfth century.