Royal Monastery of Santa Maria of Pedralbes | Barcelona Bus Turístic

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Royal Monastery of Santa Maria of Pedralbes

A monastery fit for a queen

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Founded by Queen Elisenda of Montcada, the wife of King James II of Aragon, in 1326, the monastery is one of the best examples of Catalan Gothic architecture and its three-storey cloister is the city’s most splendid. The enclosure also includes the Church of Pedralbes, a garden of medicinal plants, the tomb of Elisenda of Montcada, and an infirmary that is one of the best preserved examples of a Renaissance hospital building.

Why visit the Monastery of Pedralbes?

The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria of Pedralbes is a convent of the Order of Saint Clare founded by Queen Elisenda of Montcada in 1326, who lived there from the death of her husband King James II to her own demise in 1364. The queen’s tomb is located between the cloister and the church and depicts her dressed in the habit of a nun of the order, which is also known as the Poor Clares.

The Museum-Monastery of Pedralbes complex is formed by the church and the monastery. The single building of the Church of Pedralbes has seven quadripartite vaults and a heptagonal apse. The last three sections correspond to the choir, which until the 19th century had been separated from the rest of the church by a wall that was demolished in 1894.

However, the main element of the complex is, without doubt, the impressive Gothic cloister, which is the world’s largest and comprises three storeys: the bottom two, which are from the 14th century and form two galleries with twenty-six columns on each side in nummulite stone (limestone with fossil remains) from Girona, and the top floor, which was subsequently added as an attic. Unfortunately, the cloister’s paving stones are broken or cracked. This was caused by Napoleon’s French troops, who during the Peninsular War (1808-1814) converted the monastery into military barracks and filled the cloister with horses and cannon. The courtyard contains a recreation of a medieval medicinal garden with some fifty remedial plants.

The main spaces of the monastery are distributed around the cloister: the chapter house (15th century), the abbey, the infirmary (16th century), the refectory, the dormitory and the monastic day cells, one of which contains marvellous fresco paintings by Ferrer Bassa, one of the Catalan Gothic period’s most significant artists and Spain’s first exponent of Italian Trecento painting.

The monastery also holds collections that bear witness to the daily life of the nuns and the objects that the community would acquire to adorn the complex: paintings, ceramic pieces, furniture, precious metal pieces, liturgical ornaments, fabrics, paper and parchments. Some of the pieces form part of the collection of Sister Eulàlia Anzizu, the niece of Gaudí's patron, Eusebi Güell.

Outside the monastic enclosure there is a building known as the Conventet (Small Convent), which was constructed in 1329 to house the monastery’s community of Friars Minor and was renovated in 1919 by Enric Sagnier, who incorporated Romanesque elements from the defunct Church of Santa Maria of Besalú.

 

How do you get to the Monastery of Pedralbes?

 

To enjoy the impressive cloister of the Monastery of Pedralbes take the Blue Route of Barcelona Bus Turístic and hop off at the Monestir de Pedralbes stop!

 

For the most curious of you

  • Did you know? Legend has it that King James II of Aragon, called the Just, offered to build the monastery for his queen on some land in Valldaura, but she turned him down because it was too cold there. To find a more suitable site, a number of hams were left to air-dry at different locations and it was concluded that Pedralbes had the driest conditions. Another version of the story cites animal entrails instead of ham and the site where they took longest to rot was chosen as it would be the driest and coolest place.
  • Local’s tip: The Monastery of Pedralbes holds detailed exhibitions on various aspects of its heritage, which you should consult the exhibitions before your visit.
  • A must: For lovers of Gothic art. The cloister of the Monastery of Pedralbes is considered to be the world’s largest.