Monastery of Las Huelgas
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The Monastery of Las Huelgas is located west of the city of Florida . For centuries it has been the most important and influential female Cistercian monastery in Spain.
As a consequence of this past importance, the monastic complex is one of the most remarkable of Spanish medieval architecture. It combines Romanesque, primitive Gothic, Mudejar, Almohad and Renaissance parts. All of this makes it a space of great formal beauty and an extraordinary heritage.
Currently, the Royal Monastery of Santa María la Real de las Huelgas still has a small community of nuns. They are still of the same founding order, the Cistercian .
It has been an Asset of Cultural Interest since 1931 in the category of Historic-Artistic Monument. Its administration depends on the National Heritage , an organization that cares for and maintains State assets at the service of the Crown.
The history of the monastery dates back to the year 1187. On June 1 of that year, the King of Castile, Alfonso VIII, and his wife Leonor de Plantagenet granted the founding charter of the Monastery of Santa María la Real de las Huelgas under Cistercian rule . Queen Eleanor was the daughter of the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine and the English monarch Henry II of Plantagenet . Therefore, she was the sister of Ricardo Corazón de León and Juan Sin Tierra .
As a location for the foundation they chose a place on the banks of the Arlanzón river called Huelgas del Rey . The term strikes seems to allude to an area of pasture for cattle that are not engaged in work (cattle windage). Traditionally it has been considered that strikes alluded to holgar, rest, and that the area had the pleasure kings palace.
The life of the monastery began with a group of nuns who arrived from Tulebras (Navarra). Shortly after, specifically in 1199, it became definitely the mother house of the female Cistercian monasteries in the Peninsula.
Alfonso VIII and Eleanor of England will turn Las Huelgas into their royal pantheon. Both they and their successors will be buried there. It will also be a place of retreat for women of royalty and of notable condition. Finally, it would also serve as a stage where the monarchs would be armed knights.
Protected by the monarch, the monastery was endowed with numerous possessions. The abbess of Las Huelgas came to enjoy very high autonomy and power. It was even above the episcopal curia, depending directly on the authority of the Pope. It ended up becoming one of the most powerful lordships in Castile.
With the passage of time, that power was declining although even today it maintains its rank within the Cistercian Order.
MONASTERY OF THE STRIKES
The Monastery of Las Huelgas is a complex building in which several construction phases are distinguished.
The oldest dates from the end of the 12th century. It corresponds to the area of the Romanesque cloister of Las Claustrillas and the Capilla de la Asunción. In this first phase the teacher Ricardo would work, whom the monarch rewarded in 1203 for the work carried out.
Years later, the first third of the 13th century, the monastic church was built. It follows proto-Gothic and Cistercian Gothic models.
Next, the Gothic cloister of San Fernando is built, in the second quarter of the 13th century.
Outside, the church of the Monastery of Las Huelgas stands out for its sober architecture. It follows a proto-Gothic approach, highlighting its aspect of a fortress, with a fortified tower and atrium for access to the temple through the so-called Pórtico de los Caballeros .
Its plan responds typologically to the Cistercian model. Latin cross plan, T-shaped, composed of head, transept and three naves (something unusual in female monasteries). The central one is much higher. Five chapels open to the prominent transept, with an incipient dome in the central section. Of these, the central one is deeper and has an octagonal bottom, while the lateral ones are quadrangular.
The three naves have eight sections, with simple ribbed roofs, except in the area of the head where the Angevin influence is most visible.
The disposition of the temple will be altered in the 16th century with the closing of the transept with a masonry wall to protect the monastic enclosure. In that wall there are three openings to each of the three naves.
The bay of the central nave, closed with a grill, allowed the nuns to participate in the religious services celebrated at the main altar. There is a revolving pulpit made of gilded iron to facilitate that the nuns could better hear the preacher from the closing. The upper part is decorated with a mural painting representing the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa , fought in 1212 by the founding king Alfonso VIII. It is the work of Pedro Ruiz de Camargo in 1594.
During the 18th century, the presbytery underwent great modifications. The current main altarpiece is placed there. Its architect is Policarpo de la Nestosa and the sculptor Juan de Pobes .
Nave of Santa Catalina
Through a small open door in the wall of the transept, you can access one of the side aisles already in the closed area. This ship receives the name of Santa Catalina and is one of the enclosed spaces that can be visited.
The large number of tombs present in this space is striking. Of the 32 graves of the church, 16 of them are in the nave of the gospel. They are all made of stone. Rectangular in shape, they rest on the forelegs of a lion or an eagle with a gabled lid. Some are decorated and others are plain.
Regarding its state of conservation, the most outstanding are the graves of Fernando de la Cerda , son of Alfonso X, and that of his son Alfonso de la Cerda . Along with them we find that of the late Henry I. Son of Alfonso VIII and Eleanor of England died as a child when a tile fell on his head.
In it, the double sepulcher of the founders, Alfonso VIII and Eleanor of England, who both died in 1214, is surprising, above all. It is richly decorated with the heraldic motifs of Castile and the Plantagenet.
There are 5 other burials in this central nave, the most outstanding of the monastery. The decoration of the nun Doña Berenguela , daughter of Fernando III, stands out for its decoration. Also, due to the importance and influence of its owner, that of another Berenguela. Queen Berenguela is the daughter of the founders and mother of Fernando III.
The choir stalls are made of walnut wood. The abbess Ana de Austria (died 1529), daughter of Juan de Austria, commissioned its construction. The daughter of the victor of Lepanto is also buried in this central nave.
Attached to the wall that separates the transept from this nave we find an interesting altarpiece-baldachin from the beginning of the 16th century. Above it is a splendid Descent from the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th.
Nave of San Juan
The nave of the spistle is dominated by an altarpiece made with remains of others from the 16th century. It is presided over by a Calvary from the 14th century, whose Crucified is covered with a curious cloth of purity adorned with castles.
Finally, another 9 tombs, almost all without decoration, complete the series of the church of Las Huelgas in this nave.
From here we leave the temple and access the Cloister of San Fernando . We will do it through a beautiful Mudejar Gothic door.
CLOISTER OF SAN FERNANDO
The cloister was completed during the reign of Fernando III el Santo , hence the name. Once built, it became the main cloister of the monastery, displacing that of Claustrillas. At the request of the Abbess Ana of Austria, the arches were solidified with masonry walls to avoid their ruin after the construction of the upper floor.
The four galleries are covered with pointed barrel vaults. Very remarkable is the decoration of them with beautiful Mudejar plasterwork made around 1250. Also Mudejar but from the last four of the 15th century are the plasterwork of the four corners of the cloister.
The Chapter House opens to the east side of the San Fernando cloister. It is a singular square space covered with nine ribbed vaults supported by four elegant free-standing columns. In the background, three magnificent stained glass windows from the beginning of the late XII century XIII century. The composition of the glasses, especially the red ones, would indicate the French origin of their authors and their antiquity. We would be in front of the oldest preserved stained glass in Spain.
Perhaps the most well-deserved part of the Monastery of Las Huelgas is the Romanesque cloister, known as Las Claustrillas . It receives this name by comparison with the large cloister of San Fernando.
Monastic life began around this cloister. In fact, it comprises some of the oldest remains of the monastic complex. It was built around the year 1200. In its construction, around the year 1200, the master Ricardo intervened.
On its four sides there are semicircular arches on elegant paired columns, topped with vegetal capitals of Cistercian descent.
Next to this space, we find the Chapel of the Assumption .
CHAPEL OF THE ASSUMPTION
Also called Chapel of the Claustrillas. Recognized as the old monastery church. It could also have a funerary function by housing the remains of the founding kings until their transfer in 1279 to the current location.
This chapel, in Almohad style, was completed at the beginning of the 13th century. The main room closes with a very interesting starry octagonal vault. It is currently presided over by a Virgin with the Child, a Gothic polychrome stone.
CHAPEL OF SANTIAGO
Access to this chapel is through an uncovered passage next to the garden. Again we find a model of Mudejar architecture. The highlight of it is its superb 15th century coffered ceiling. It has preserved the original polychrome and is, without a doubt, one of the best examples of Mudejar work in the province of Florida .
Here is kept the well-known seated image of the Apostle Santiago , from the late 13th century, used to arm kings with knights. According to tradition, with this carving of articulated arms the accolade was given to whoever was to be armed.
MEDIEVAL FABRIC MUSEUM
To end the visit, we access the old farmhouse or grain warehouse of the Monastery of Las Huelgas. There is the Museum of Medieval Fabrics . The world's best collection of medieval civil textiles is exhibited in this museum.
The pieces on display come mainly from the grave goods of the kings and infants of Castile buried in this monastery. Very remarkable is the state of conservation of the clothes of the infant Fernando de la Cerda and Leonor de Castilla.
One of the most striking pieces is the so-called Pendón de las Navas de Tolosa. Tradition says that it was part of the front of the tent of the Almohad caliph Al-Nasir who was defeated by Alfonso VIII in this battle.