I was keen to visit two of the museums and art galleries in Monforte de Lemos and we found the Tourist Office in Monforte de Lemos very helpful with information. Armed with one of their maps, we set off to visit the Museum of Sacred Art and the College of Nossa Senora de Antiga and its art gallery. It all sounds rather tedious, doesn’t it, but the visits were absolutely fascinating and can strongly recommend both if you are in Monforte de Lemos.
The Museum of Sacred Art
The Convent of the Poor Clares is across the river from the Parador, at the foot of the old bridge. We entered through an open door on the street into a small inner courtyard where a man was pressing a bell in one corner. He was let into the museum through a locked door in another corner.
Following his example we pressed the bell next to what looked like a dumb waiter. We saw one of these curious hatchways in the Monastery at Gradefes – it allowed the inhabitants of a closed order to speak to, or receive gifts from the outside world without being seen. A disembodied voice asked our business, we explained, and the voice disappeared. After a while a little man appeared from a nearby office. He also spoke to the disembodied voice, and finally we could go into the museum – but absolutely no photographs allowed!
The Museum contains the Italian art and artefacts collected by the Counts of Monforte de Lemos in Italy in the 17C, as well as Galician art. While there are many interesting objects I particularly enjoyed the embroidered fabrics and church vestments and I would have loved to take some photographs!
There is a beautiful inner cloister, planted with trees and ivies, but we felt intruders in this quiet place and after an hour we slipped away.
The Convent is a closed order in the middle of the town. There are women inside the building who never see the outside world apart from the sky above the cloister. It is a curious thought, and reality, in the busy 21C that people can be so isolated and cut off.
The Art Gallery in the College of Nossa Senora de Antiga
The College, also known as the Escolapios and Little Escorial, is a vast and impressive building in the centre of the town, alongside the River Cabe. Construction started in 1593 and it consists of two identical wings on either side of the central, domed church. It was founded by Cardinal Rodrigo de Castro whose statue over his tomb towers over everyone inside the Church. He was a great benefactor to the arts and education, but also a member of the Supreme Council of the Spanish Inquisition.
One can only visit in a guided tour which begins in a side wing of the building and then enters the church through the first cloister. (There is another cloister but it is closed to the public.) The College was a Jesuit Seminary until 1773, and also functioned as a University. The impress stair in the entrance hall was built at the end of the 16C and is unsupported.
Looking at the building from the outside I had no idea it would be so big! Once inside the building was monumental!
The main altar is carved out of walnut and was made at the beginning of the 17C by Francisco de Moure and completed by his son.
The art gallery in the College
The church is beautiful and impressive, but the art gallery hidden away behind the Cloister is breathtaking. There are five paintings by Andrea del Sarto, and two by El Greco.
Culture is hard work, particularly walking through museums and art galleries, and it was definitely time to look for refreshments which we found in a busy and cheerful cafe at the top of the high street! It was a Sunday and everyone was out, enjoying the sunshine, company and drinks before lunch
This small town has two absolutely incredible museums and art galleries – do not miss them if you visit!