The Cloister of the Monastery of PedralbesOften I have found that in the midst of many a bustling city there is a place of quiet and peace: as an example Ibun Tulun Mosque in Cairo, the chapel of St Faith at Westminster Abbey or the Cloister of the Monastery of Pedralbes in Barcelona. On the day of our visit, unlike La Sagrada Famillia, Las Ramblas and other sites in the city, there were maybe twenty other people who were wandering leisurely through the Monastery complex. Though known it would seem that it is not on everyone's bucket list of "must-sees" in Barcelona - a shame in one way but a blessing in another. It allowed us to visit the monastery and its precincts undisturbed and enjoy the peacefulness.
Catalan Revolt of 1640 - until it was purchased by the corporation of Barcelona in 1971. A new Monastery was built nearby for the small community that remained of this once great house. The site had been declared a Spanish national monument as early as 1931 but was not opened as a museum until 1983.
There is no access to the monastery from the church - a separate entrance leads you through a small series of halls and opens up into the cloister, the largest in the world. A spacious and graceful area, it is a three story structure with twenty-six columns on each of the four sides. The main level was part of the original Monastery, the second level was added in 1419 and the third level later the same century. The cloister garden was used to grow medicinal plants and flowers - the nuns were known for the elaborate bouquets of roses, orange flowers and jasmine they made for the celebration of holy days in Barcelona.
Ferrer Bassa and depicts the Joys of the Virgin and the Passion. Painted between 1343-1346 they were contracted by Francesca ça Portella, the niece of Queen Elisenda, who was Abbess of the Monastery from 1336 to 1364:
It is agreed between the lady abbess of Pedralbes and Ferrer Bassa that the said Ferrer shall paint in fine colours, with oil, the Chapel of St. Michael ........There seems to have been some dispute between the good lady abbess and the painter and he many not have received all the money due him. It has been suggest that much of the work was not by the artist himself but by his son Arnau or an Italian assistant. Bassa was greatly influenced by the Italian school and followed the Gioto techniques of both "fresco" and "secco" painting in his work. He also used many technical innovations that had been introduced in Tuscany in the early 14th century.
And the abbess shall pay Ferrer Bassa two hundred and fifty sous, his food and that of those who help the painter in the said work; and out of the two hundred and fifty sous, the said abbess shall pay the said Ferrer Bassa one hundred sous in advance and the remaining one hundred and fifty sous when the work is finished.
Extract from the contract in the Monastery archives
|A left click on this panorama of the Murals of the Capella de Sant Miquel will take you to an extensive website devoted to the project. It is "worth the detour" for the rich animations and virtual tours its offers. I'm still exploring it.|
Unfortunately the Chapel is currently closed and a massive restoration project is underway. However there was a fascinating exhibition on the current two stage project: first a detailed investigation of the work and techniques involved then stabilizing the paintings and restoring them to their original splendor. A feature of the exhibition was a short film showing how the murals were painted - I suggest that you use the expand symbols on the control panel to get the full effect.
If we could not view the "jewel" of the Monastery there was still enough to fascinate in both cloister and in the rooms accessible to the public. As well as the Cloister side of Queen Elisenda's doubled-sided tomb the wall adjacent to the church was lined with the tombs of women who had served as Mother Abbess or were influential in the history of the life of the Monastery. The final resting places of Abbess Francesa, Beatriu de Fenollet, Constança de Cardona and Elionor de Pinós are examples of Catalonian Gothic sculpture, decoration and architecture at its peak.
|The Cloister quadrangle followed the pattern of the time - a central fountain surrounded by four quadrants each serving an important function in monastery life: An herb garden, a flower garden, a rest area of shade and a well-head.|
Looking at the artistic wealth of the Monastery it is perhaps easy to be slightly cynical about the "Poor Clares" however it must be kept in mind that many of the sisters of the congregation came from privilege. Most were noblewomen and the founder herself was royalty and they practiced the arts of the gentlewomen of their time as well as observing the rules of their order.
A gentlewoman of the period would be expected to excel in the art of needlework and the good sisters of the Monastery were no exception. They worked vestments for both their Church of Santa Maria and for other parishes in the region of Sarriá and nearby Barcelona. The red chasuble was meant for a festive mass while the black figured with the symbols of the Passion was possibly for an event during Holy Week.
It is interesting to note that in the early years of the 19th century, the victim of the French Revolution and advancing secularization, the Order of Poor Clares declined everywhere in Europe except Spain. In an 1909 census there were 247 monasteries with 5543 confessed sisters in Spain - nearly a third of the order at the time. A search for the current state of the Order has produced no numbers but in the past decade there has been a resurgence in Spain of entry into the novitiate. Many of the women are mid-aged, well-educated, professionals - a historical pattern set by their predecessors.
As a side note: In one of those strange traditions, its origins lost in the fog of history, on the Feast Day of Saint Eulàlia the Alicante of Barcelona brings a dozen eggs as a gift to the sisters of the Monastery. This may be because it is believed that the Saint (who is the patron of Barcelona) was born in Sarriá. But why eggs, why a dozen and how exactly this guarantees good fortune in the following year has not been explained. Nor is it mentioned if the Mayor stays for a breakfast frittata.
December 12 -1915: President of the Republic of China, Yuan Shikai, announces his intention to reinstate the monarchy and proclaim himself Emperor of China.