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Cistercian Abbeys of Spain and Portugal





The Abbey of San Salvador de Leyre nestles in the foothills of the Pyrenees - from the south (above), and (below) from the west.  The only old parts of the Abbey still there are the Crypt and Church  - dating from the 1000s and 1100s with a somewhat later vaulted roof which replaced the wooden original.  The monastery buildings to the south of the church date from the late 1500s - the original monastery and cloisters were to the north and have gone - replaced by a hotel / hostel.


There was already a thriving abbey (including a well-stocked library) on this dramatic site in the mid 800s.  In the 900s, 1000s and 1100s the monastery became progressively more powerful and wealthy as it was adopted by the Basque / Navarra Kings as their main church and also became their pantheon.  Despite the fact that its abbots were appointed by the King, Leyre also linked up with the Burgundian Abbey of Cluny and became the main (and extremely richly endowed) Clunaic monastery in the Pyrenees. 


In the 1200s Leyre was flicked to the Cistercians in the wake of an upheaval in the Navarra royal dynasty and an attempt to settle things down on the religious front.  But this led to a 70 year struggle between Benedictines and Cistercians, which was only resolved in favour of the latter in 1307.  The glory days were over, and the monastery was on a 500 year downward slope that ended up in the general confiscation of monastic properties by the government in 1836.


In the 1900s it was the government (of Navarra) who changed roles and came to the rescue - restoring the abbey and monastery buildings so that in 1954 they could be reoccupied - this time by a group of Benedictine monks from Santo Domingo de Silos (who in turn had arrived in Spain from the monastery of Solesmes, NE France, in 1880).


Although the Abbey is listed in Cistercian Abbey guides, none of the Cistercian monastery buildings survive, and the existing church buildings, with the exception of the nave roof, all predate the Cistercian takeover.





The west front of the Abbey Church and the "new" monastery buildings.  At the end of May 2006 the Abbey was being unseasonably buffeted by the cold and very strong (like difficult to stand up in) winds called the Cierzo, usually associated with March we were told !  Also the reason why there are no wind turbines in the area (we were also told - they couldn't stand the pressure!).  Despite the wind this the quality of the Gregorian chanted evensong was outstanding, and put the efforts of their much better known and distant monastic relatives at Santo Domingo de Silos into the shade.


But things were a bit better the next morning - and by now the sun was shining on the East front

The crypt dates from the 1000s and has an interesting array of recycled capitals and other stonework

West door Portal (1100s) - Tympanum (above), Archivolt (below) and Capital (below below) of the Abbey Church of Leyre


The pre Romanesque Apse (above) is the oldest part of the upper church (1000s), the nave (below) coming during the next century and the slightly Gothic nave roofing (to replace a wooden one) later still in the 1300s.  So, the only part that can be called Cistercian is the nave roof!


A chest containing remains of the early Kings of Navarra - the medieval Kingdom of Navarre embraced significant lands now in SW France as well as Spain.  King Henri III of Navarre (1553 - 1589 - 1610 (57)) converted from protestant to catholic to become the first Bourbon King of France in 1589.


Yesa is located on the lower red road below the first "P" of "Pamplona" - this is the Camino Aragonés, which used to pick up the pilgrims from Southern France crossing the Pyrenees through the Somport  pass above Jaca.  Yesa is also at the start of the road up to the Leyre monastery, and is home to the newish Hotel Señorio de Monjardin (tel 948 88 41 88) (right) which provided a friendly base for our drives around Navarre (but no internet!). 


The hotel has a good restaurant (the Restaurante Irati) run by Jose Maria Mendiola Múgica, a friendly and communicative Basque who is also an excellent chef, and with whom Dom P had several interesting discussions without common language !



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