Aguilar de Campoo, Palencia

Monastery of Santa María la Real

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No one quite knows for certain the exact origins of the monastery of Santa María la Real, but somehow a myth - in a falsified document that purports to "record" its foundation - got tangled up with it. Legend has it that during a hunt, a noble knight, Alpidio, discovered an abandoned church dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and quickly alerted his brother, the abbot Opila, who restored and then took over the hermitage, which would eventually become the monastery of Santa María la Real (1). Fiction aside, it may be interesting to note the aristocratic and chivalric flavors that characterize this founding myth of a monastery in a town that would enjoy royal jurisdiction as well as become one of the Christian strongholds in the Reconquista campaign. The first authentic record of the monastery dates to 1020, which describes the establishment at the time as a lay abbey (abbatia secularis); we also have extant records from the same century of donations of lands and estates from nobles, which include King Alfonso VI of León and Castile (r. 1072-1109) who gave the church of Santa Eugenia de Cordovilla to Abbot Lecenio of Santa María la Real (2). In 1169, Alfonso VIII, King of Castile (r. 1158–1214) gave the monastery to Retuerta Abbey and the Premonstratensian order, putting the monastery in the former diocese of Burgos like other Premonstratesian abbeys (3).

 

Santa María la Real as it stands today dates mostly to the late-twelfth and early-thirteenth century, with seventeenth- and eighteenth-century restorations and additions (4). As such, the medieval portions of the church exhibit largely late Romanesque features, such as the many historiated and decorated capitals, with just a hint of the early Gothic, as evident in the slightly pointed arches and ribbed vaults such as in the cloister and the presbytery (5). José Luis Hernando Garrido, after Lacoste, proposes that three workshops, working in three successive phases, were involved in the medieval construction, with the oldest parts of the church dating back to the 1160s, and the final sections completed around the second and third decades of the thirteenth century, including the rebuilt cloister that reused older carvings from the Romanesque church (6).

In 1871, most of the cloister capitals and some more from the church and other areas of the monastery were removed to the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (MAN) in Madrid, where they still reside today (7). Among these are capitals with vegetal motifs and fantastic creatures, scenes from Christ's life (including a double capital of the Massacre of the Innocents from the cloister that shares similarities with a capital in the church of Santa Cecilia), as well as an equestrian knight and a lion-fighter that is commonly identified as Samson (8). Explore the Descent from the Cross capital (now preserved in MAN) in details below.

 
 
 

Monastery of Santa María la Real

Descent from the Cross capital

(MAN inventory no. 50197)

The cross forms the axis of this capital that dictates the roughly symmetrical arrangement of the entire scene. Joseph of Arimathea (left) and Nicodemus (right) are the closest figures to Christ, supporting his limp and lifeless body. The Virgin Mary stands to the left on the central face, and half-veiled kisses her son's hand, while Saint John stands, almost hidden, on the right face of the capital. The sculptural details mostly take their cues from the gospels' descriptions of the crucifixion (Luke 23, 53; John 19, 38-41) (9).

 

María Rodríguez Velasco points out that, since the capitals illustrating the cycle of Christ's passion (including this one) were originally situated near the presbytery, the subject matter was most probably coordinated for liturgical use - to heighten the drama of the Eucharist service (10). She also proposes, through a comparative study of the Ávila Bible and the Aguilar capitals, that artists and sculptors working in Ávila and Aguilar de Campoo may have been in a relationship of mutual influence and emulation, which culminated in the sculptural works in San Vicente de Ávila (11).

Notes
 

(1) José Luis Hernando Garrido, "Aguilar de Campoo: Monasterio de Santa María la Real," in Enciclopedia del románico en Castilla y León: Palencia, eds. José María Pérez González, Miguel Ángel García Guinea and José Manuel Rodríguez Montañés (Aguilar de Campoo: Fundación Santa María La Real, Centro de Estudios del Románico, 2002), 186-87; María Estela Gonzales de Fauve, La Orden Premostratense en España. El monasterio de Santa María la Real en Aguilar de Campoo siglos XI-XV (Aguilar de Campoo: Centro de Estudios del Románico, 1992), 51-52.

(2) Hernando Garrido, "Aguilar de Campoo: Monasterio de Santa María la Real," in Enciclopedia del románico en Castilla y León: Palencia, 186-87; Rafael Paradelo, "Aguilar de Campoo," in Enciclopedia del románico en Castilla y León: Palencia, 167.

(3) Hernando Garrido, "Aguilar de Campoo: Monasterio de Santa María la Real," in Enciclopedia del románico en Castilla y León: Palencia, 189; Hernando Garrido, "Aguilar de Campoo," in The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture, ed. Colum P. Hourihane (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 15.

(4) Hernando Garrido, "Aguilar de Campoo: Monasterio de Santa María la Real," in Enciclopedia del románico en Castilla y León: Palencia, 191-94; Hernando Garrido, "Aguilar de Campoo," in The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture, 15.

(5) Hernando Garrido, "Aguilar de Campoo: Monasterio de Santa María la Real," in Enciclopedia del románico en Castilla y León: Palencia, 191-94, 197-98

(6) Hernando Garrido, "Aguilar de Campoo: Monasterio de Santa María la Real," in Enciclopedia del románico en Castilla y León: Palencia, 193, 197-98; Hernando Garrido, "Aguilar de Campoo," in The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture, 15.

(7) Hernando Garrido, "Aguilar de Campoo," in The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture, 15.

(8) Please see an extensive catalogue (with descriptions) of the sculptures of Santa María la Real, including those capitals that are now preserved in MAN, in Hernando Garrido, "Aguilar de Campoo: Monasterio de Santa María la Real," in Enciclopedia del románico en Castilla y León: Palencia, 196-213. You may also wish to visit the MAN catalogue for the capitals that are now in MAN: http://ceres.mcu.es/pages/Main (search for Aguilar de Campoo).

(9) María Rodríguez Velasco, "Ecos en piedra de las imágenes miniadas del siglo XII: el paralelismo de tipos iconográficos entre los capiteles de Santa María la Real (Aguilar de Campoo) y la Biblia de Ávila (Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, Vit. 15-1)," Boletín del Museo Arqueológico Nacional 34 (2016): 215.

(10) Rodríguez Velasco, "Ecos en piedra de las imágenes miniadas del siglo XII," 213.

(11) Rodríguez Velasco, "Ecos en piedra de las imágenes miniadas del siglo XII," 212-13, 226-28.

 

© Liz Lastra