The car was finally fixed, at a garage which looked more like a 5-star hotel than a garage. Even the workshop, which was open to the public, was gleamingly spotless – extraordinary. The coffee was good, the biscuits were excellent, and the magazines were current…
Anyway, comparisons over and bill paid we set out to investigate some interesting churches I had read about, situated outside the city.
The Monastery of Santa Maria de Sandoval was established in 1167 on a branch of the Camino de Santiago, on fertile land near the Porma and Esla Rivers outside Mansilla de los Mulas. The land had been given by a wealthy man, Pedro Ponce de Minerva, and a Cistercian Monastery was active from 1171-1835. In 1835 many of the monasteries and convents were closed down by the state, including this one, and the building starting disintegrating. The importance of the site has now been recognised and restoration is under way. The church continues as a local parish church.
There are two cloisters and I believe this is to accommodate two separate communities in the monastery: the lay brothers and the monks. The second, very large cloister and its surrounding buildings is in ruins, with only the outline of the buildings in place. This is not attached to the church, and lies at the outside of the site.
The first cloister is attached to the church and is slowly being restored, together with the chapter house, refectory, and library.
After walking around the ruined cloisters and peering into ruined kitchens, dorters, and library the interior of the church is startling. It is a vast space, very calm, and in quite good repair. It was dark, but as usual tripods are not allowed so I did the best I could handheld. Time was also limited, and because of the height of the building it is very difficult to give a sense of the space, and although ‘straight verticals’ are perhaps desirable in this space they are unhelpful.
The Cistercians did not believe in decorative architecture which they believed would distract from reflection and thought – thinking of some of the lewd sculptures in Breton churches they are probably correct! The pillars in the church therefore have only very simple carvings (and builders’ marks!). Other works of art have probably been long-removed from the building and only these two pieces remain: a very beautiful ‘Descent from the Cross’, carving from a flat piece of wood, and a figure which at the back is hollow. There is also a subdued altarpiece.
This is an extraordinary site, in the middle of the countryside, isolated in accord with Cistercian principles, and slowly being restored. The young guide was very helpful and knowledgeable, but in a short visit of perhaps 1.5 hours one only begins to understand – do visit if you are in the area.