Monastery of santa maría of valbuena Composition and architecture
- MONASTIC CHURCH
Originally, monks did not need more than a small presbytery with an altar for the liturgical acts, which only the priest, deacon and subdeacon could access. As the Order grew, along with the prohibition to officiate more than one mass daily in the same altar, the number of chapels increased.
The construction start date of the monastic church is unknown, although it is believed that it began in the last quarter of the 12th century.
The architectural style titled as “Spanish-Languedoc School” by Lambert, served as a model for the construction of the Santa María de Valbuena monastery church, and was the same style used for the abbeys in the south of France. The stone church has a Latin cross floor plan, three naves, a transept and a header with five apses.
There is a choir at the entrance, whose construction in the 16th century resulted in a lower level in the first two sections of the church. Prior to this addition, this part of the church corresponded to the converts.
ICONOGRAPHY, CHAPELS AND ALTARPIECES
The Main presbytery Chapel has a baroque altarpiece from the 18th century, attributed to Pedro de Correas. Dominating the altarpiece is a baldachin, inside; an image of the Virgin of the Assumption can be seen, with a flying angel placing a crown on her head. In the lower body there are four life-sized figures representing Bernardo de Claraval, Anselmo de Canterbury, Ildefonso de Toledo and Pedro Damián.
On the Gospel side (the north nave of the church) there are four baroque altarpieces from the 18th century:
- The first is attributed to Pedro de Correas, and has a central relief with Saint Bernardo receiving milk from the Virgin. This relief comes from the first epoch of the Gregorio Fernández sculpture.
- The second altarpiece is also attributed to Pedro de Correas. In the centre there is an image of Saint Raimundo, from the 18th century.
- The third altarpiece is similar to the previous, but with an image of Saint Roberto.
- The last altarpiece on this side is also attributed to Gregorio Fernández and has a large relief with the Holy Family theme.
The first chapel apse shows Christ from the 16th century, attributed to a follower of Alonso Berruguete. The second chapel has a baroque altarpiece from the mid 18th century, with Cistercian saint sculptures. On both sides of the central body there are a total of 10 reliquary busts.
On the Epistle side (south nave of the church), the first chapel apse has an altarpiece from the 18th century, with an Immaculate, following the iconography sculptor of Gregorio Fernández. In the laterals you can see images of Saint Joaquín and Saint Ana.
Previously situated in the east ambulatory, it was later transformed into a sacristy in the 18th century. Below there are two corridors; one of which leads to the monks’ dormitories on the floor above the chapter house, The other would have lead to the locutory entrance hall or working room. This space has two naves separated by three pillars. The vault is ribbed and on its east wall there are three open windows giving light to the room.
It was one of the rooms, which played a pre-eminent role in the monastic life. The community gathered there to discuss relevant issues, an abbot was selected, confession took place and the monks read chapters from the San Benito Rule.
- SAINT PETER’S CHAPEL
A 13th century chapel, with has an elongated floor, a chevet with trapezoidal, and three sections with ribbed vaulting. The south side is accessed from the southern apsidiole of the apse.
It is believed that it served as a funeral chapel, and still maintains some stone sarcophagus. The most important aspect of this chapel are the murals and Gothic paintings, which decorate three of the sarcophagus walls. A sufficient amount was recovered in recent restorations at the end of the 20th century.
The illustrative themes show combat between Christian and Muslim knights, religious representations, like the adoration of the Three Kings, and figures of the king and queen of Urraca, surrounded by pages.
- WORKING ROOM
The parlatorium or monks workroom is a clear example of Cistercian architecture marked by austerity. The space is divided into two naves with three circular columns of great thickness and low structural height.
Serving as a workroom for the monastic community. Here the monks carried out all types of daily chores that served as maintaining absolute independence from the outside world.
The Cistercian monks’ dining room was within the refectory, a rectangular room that stands out as an architectural element due to its pointed barrel vault. Today, you can see the pulpit remains, which were used for reading during meals.
In the west ambulatory, there was a convert’s area, which later was used as a warehouse or granary. This part was significantly modified during the 16th and 17th centuries, making new areas, like the building with a row of balconies and other rooms, which were recovered for use during the last restoration in 2001.
Completed at the same time as the refectory, however with hardly any medieval remains conserved, the present kitchen is a product of modern period interventions.
Initially, it would have been a small room with a fireplace in the central part. Today it has a well, which collects water from a tank, and small larders or built-in pantries. Next to these, where the old serving hatch was located, exists a modern opening, which connects with the refectory.
The cloister or courtyard consists of two levels, the lower from the 13th century and the upper from the 16th century. Transverse arches in six quadrangular sections divide the galleries or ambulatories, and the common corner area is covered with ribbed vaulting. The series of arches on the ground floor consist of three semicircles, inscribed on another pointed arch whose tympanum contains a small rose window. The columns are doubled and their shafts intact. The capitals are nature themed, highlighting bunches of grapes as a decorative element, since it is the fruit from which the blood of Christ is born. This area is one of the main livelihood sources of the Cistercian monks.
Late-Gothic decoration appears on the top floor, along with the incipient Renaissance. Within the semicircle arches in their voussoirs and the intrados, a decoration of flowery carvings can be seen. In the spandrels, characters faces have been carved onto medallions with a skilled hand. The skull medallion alluding to death is the most prominent, a very common Renaissance symbol. It is also believed that Fernando el Católico or Carlos V can be found among them. The cloister was also motive for restoration when works were carried out on the rest of the monastery in 2001.
- COMPASS COURTYARD AND STABLES
It was very common for big abbeys to be constructed around two courtyards. One of which was a cloister, with a more polished artistic conception, exclusively for monastic use. The second, a large courtyard that served as a connection to the outside world for the monastery.
The latter, gave access to travellers and carts who entered the monastery with supplies. It was called Compass Courtyard or guest quarters, due to the fact that at that moment guests used to take shelter in these rooms.
Nowadays, you can access the courtyard through the building, which houses the visitor’s reception to the monastery. Originally in this spot were rooms previously used by Count Montijo, among them the stables that were shared by the count and the monks themselves.
On the enclosing wall of the courtyard, exist two accessible passages, one internal on ground level and the other in the open air. They both connect the building to units within some of the houses acquired by the count, which no longer exist today. In its place, an exterior facade to the monastery was erected.
- PORTER’S LODGE
Situated in the west area since the 16th century, consisting of quadrangular spaces, the Porter´s Lodge functioned as a main entrance to the monastery:
- The first, gives access to the exterior through a monumental pointed arch, above which appears a baroque stone sculpture representing San Bernardo.
- The second, already inside the monastery is covered by a groin vault.
In this space, again we see the symbiosis of styles, which are frequently repeated in Valbuena. The lower part corresponds to the Renaissance, while the top, composed of a spacious south-facing gallery, offered a pleasant temperature and beautiful views, which comforted elderly and sick monks.
The exact space it occupied is unknown, however documentary sources confirm its existence in order to preserve a Memorial in 1656. Where the monks complained to Montesión about favours made at the expense of Valbuena. Since they should have been provided with saffron when the plant was supplied from la Mancha.
Attached to the Count’s house, in the East wing, a building with two accessible doors was constructed. It is believed that this building could have originally been a hospice or novitiate.