Monastery of Leyre

posted in: Spain | 0

We enjoyed a walk down the Foz de Lumbier but didn’t want to return to the Parador at Sos del Rey Catolico just yet so decided to visit the Monastery of Leyre.

Monsters of Leyre under the mountains

A brief history of the Monastery of Leyre

The Monastery of San Salvador of Leyre, to give it its full name is in the east of Navarre in the Sierra de Leyre Mountains. There is a record of a monastery here as early as 848 AD. And also in the 9th century the relics of Nunilo and Alodia, sisters who were martyred for their faith, arrived at the monastery. This established the importance of the monastery.

King Sancho III was brought up at the monastery. During his reign in the 11th century the Abbots were also the Bishops of Pamplona. It was a Cluniac order at the time. In the 11th century the Camino was being developed. This brought revenues into the monastery. In the 13th century there was a switch to the Cistercian order.

Finally in the 19th century monastic life ended through the legislation by Mendizabal, the equivalent of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England.

Things started looking up again in 1954 when a community of Benedictine Monks arrived from Santo Domingo de Silos and the twenty monks still care for the monastery today.

The old monastery is to the right of the plan below and includes a hotel. The new buildings are on the left. In the middle is the church with the original Romanesque building and its rounded apse to the south and the larger and later Romanesque church adjoining it to the north.

Plan of the monastery:

The Monastery of Leyre is one of the most important monasteries in Spain. 1


The crypt supports the apse above and it is a very important structure in the history of Spanish Romanesque architecture.

Crypt of the original church at Leyre
Crypt of the original church at Leyre
Columns are decorated with geometric patterns

The Tunnel of St Virila was an exit from the monastery and it now closed off. St Virila was the Abbot of Leyre in the 10th century and his statue is at the far end of the tunnel. There are rather extraordinary legends associated with the saint.

Crypt of the original church at Leyre with the tunnel of St Virile
Tunnel of St Virile

The Porta Speciosa

The Porta Speciosa is the main public entrance to the church. It is a hugely complex construction which tells the story of the Bible. Master Esteban, who built the Platerias Gate in Santiago de Compostela, was involved here as well. The doorway dates from the 12th century when the side walls of the church were extended. In the 16th century the roof was raised and Gothic vaults added.

Porta Speciosa of the Monastery of Leyre
Porta Speciosa
Porta Speciosa of the Monastery of Leyre

I would have loved more time to explore the details on the doorway…..

Inside the Church of the Monastery of Leyre

The Church feels good, at ease, and it smells of incense which I love. There had been a wedding that morning and the flowers were still in the church. We say the wedding party leaving just as we were arriving.

Inside the church
The original Romanesque church with curved arches
Altar and alabaster windows behind
The Gothic arches in the later part of the Church with a higher ceiling
Monastery of Leyre
The remains of various Kings of Navarre are contained in the box behind the grille on the left

Driving back to Sos

We stopped to look at The Yesa Reservoir in the valley was formed by damming the Aragon River. It is known as the Sea of Aragon! Construction work on the dam started in 1928. The dam finally came into service in 1960! The aim of the project was to irrigate the Bardenas and the Cinco Vilas areas. The project flooded the valley and buried several villages.

The Yesa Reservoir on the Aragon River in the valley below the monastery
The Yesa Reservoir on the Aragon River in the valley below the monastery

The Bardenas Canal is also described as an aqueduct. I noticed it when we drive from the Bardenas to Sos without realising what it was. The project is massive and ongoing.

The Bardenas Canal on the road between Sanguesa and Sos
The Bardenas Canal on the road between Sanguesa and Sos

The Monastery of Leyre is remarkable and I would love to return and stay in the hotel. The monks sing in Gregorian Chant in the morning and evening services and it must be magical.



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