Santa Maria la Real in Gradefes

posted in: Europe, Home, Leon, Spain | 2

Le Tart Abbey in France was established in 1132 as the first Cistercian Convent for women, I believe. The first Cistercian Convent in Spain followed in 1151 in Tulebras. In 1168 Santa Maria la Real in Gradefes was founded and the first group of nuns arrived from Tulebras. The Convent, in the small village of Gradefes de Rueda and close to the River Esla, is still active. As a visitor you can only see parts of the Convent, in a guided tour, although the church is open daily.

The entrance to the Convent of Santa Maria in Gradefes
Santa Maria la Real in Gradefes
The entrance to the Church

Inside Santa Maria la Real

I could a lot of stone mason signs which I recognised from those in the Monastery in Sandoval. But we were the only two visitors and I couldn’t stop for photographs. I did notice marks around the door into the church: a cross, and a curious ‘bow’ which I think is the sign of a fish, the primitive sign for Christianity.

Santa Maria la Real in Gradefes
The doorway into the church

A very kind and helpful woman was our guide, taking her time to explain and respond to questions. Doña Teresa Petri and her husband founded the Convent in 1164 and their tombs are in the church.

The tombs of the founders
The tombs of the founders

The church is quiet, calm, and simply austere – very beautiful – I believe these were the aims of Cistercian architecture. This is the only convent in Spain which has an ambulatory, a structure in churches apparently reserved for monasteries.

The Convent of Santa Maria la Real, Gradefes (
Santa Maria la Real in Gradefes
The high altar and apse
The Ambulatory of Santa Maria la Real in Gradefes
The Ambulatory
The apse and ambulatory of Santa Maria la Real in Gradefes
The apse and ambulatory
The choir, taken through a glass screen

In the garden

The tour visits the intimate cloister, with a garden in the centre, and the extraordinary Chapter House. The Chapter House is connected to the church via a ‘dumb waiter’ arrangement, a king of revolving cupboard which allows the nuns to communicate with a priest without being seen. It didn’t feel right to photograph in these areas. But a door from the cloister led to a small garden, and then the vegetable gardens and orchards outside the buildings and from here we could see the rounded apse of the church.

Santa Maria la Real in Gradefes
The apse of the church, from the gardens/orchards

We were the only visitors at this peaceful and calm site and were reluctant to just get into the car and drive away, and so we lingered in a local cafe. Do visit.

Further information
Cistercian Nuns
The Camino Vadiniense
Architectural details and explanation of the Convent – good article with photos
Interesting article, with photos
Stonemason’s signs – absolutely fascinating!

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