The Abbey of Samos and the Cypress Chapel

Join us on a visit to a longstanding site of pilgrimage, tucked just away from the French Way of the St. James Way.

By Regional Government of Galicia

Triacastela (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

On leaving Triacastela, pilgrims following the French Way toward Santiago will come across a road leading to Samos, a place that has long been connected with the St. James Way.

Monastery of San Xulián de Samos (6th Century - 18th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

The Abbey of Samos

Samos is home to one of Galicia's oldest abbeys, said to have been founded in the sixth century by Martín de Braga. For centuries, the abbey was a place of rest and seclusion. Alfonso II of Asturias, during whose reign the tomb of St. James was discovered, spent his childhood there.

Sculpture of Alfonso II the Chaste in the Plaza de Entrepraciñas in Santiago de Compostela (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Following this momentous discovery, Alfonso II ordered the construction of the first basilica on the site that we now know as Compostela. He is commemorated with a statue in the city.

Samos Monastery Library (6th-18th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

Therefore, the history of Samos has been linked for over 12 centuries with the St. James Way, as evidenced by its role providing shelter for pilgrims for over 1000 years.

Pilgrims in front of the Samos monastery (6th-18th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

Although it is not part of the usual route taken by today's pilgrims, increasing numbers of them take the detour via this spectacular building, with its long history of offering hospitality to those following the St. James. Way.

Samos Monastery (6th-18th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

The unfinished yet elegant Baroque facade of the Monastery of Samos, with its grand steps, influenced by the Cathedral of Santiago, is one of this building's most spectacular features.

Interior of the church of the monastery of Samos (6th-18th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

The interior of its 18th-century church is one of the greatest architectural sights along the French Way in Galicia. Look up to see depictions of Bernardo, Anselmo, Ildefonso, and Ruperto, the four Marian doctors of the Benedictine order, around the cupola.

Cloister of the Nereids, monastery of Samos (6th-18th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

The smaller cloister, named the Cloister of the Nereids after the Baroque fountain that sits in its center, features an interesting example of monastic humor in the form of a message on the keystone to anyone who looks at it: "What are you looking at, fool?" This was probably intended as a warning to the monks not to get distracted while working on their chores. Keep an eye out for it when visiting.

Big Cloister or Father Feijoo, Samos Monastery (6th-18th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

At over 32,291 square feet, the imposing, larger cloister, built in the late 17th century, must surely be Spain's largest monastic cloister. It is presided over by a statue of Padre Feijóo by the sculptor Francisco Asorey, reminding visitors that this scholar and a leading figure in the Spanish Enlightenment became a monk in this prominent monastery.

The sign of the monastery of Samos (6th-18th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

In the 18th century, this ancient vault was moved to Samos, where it became the Signo (meaning sign, so named because of the sign of the cross made by the abbot on entry) and the sacristy. It is decorated with frescoes showing scenes from Jesus' life, and curved wooden triangles with figures shown in high relief. There is also a beautiful octagonal Baroque table, and an altarpiece that houses some of the monastery's relics.

Samos Monastery Library (6th-18th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

The monastery's library and archive has an extensive collection that includes 12 incunabula (printed books) and several manuscripts that are of great historical significance. Of particular note is a scroll that belonged to Ferdinand III of Castile (also known as the Saint), and a privilegio rodado, a medieval court document that is authenticated with an image of a wheel. This particular one is from Cuéllar and dates from 1303.

Chapel of San Salvador de Samos or del Ciprés (9th-10th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

The Chapel of San Salvador, Also Known as the Cypress Chapel

Just a few feet away from the abbey in Samos is a much smaller, yet no less significant, site: the tiny Cypress Chapel, which is one of Galicia's oldest medieval churches.

Chapel of San Salvador de Samos or del Ciprés (9th-10th Centuries)Original Source: Wikimedia Commons

The building is Mozarabic in style and was built in the ninth century. It is a simple, slate-walled building with a gabled slate roof.

Chapel of San Salvador de Samos or del Ciprés (9th-10th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

Its original purpose remains a mystery over which no consensus has been reached. It may have been a private oratory or a funerary chapel, or it may have been used by outsiders who stayed in the monastery.

Chapel of San Salvador de Samos or del Ciprés (9th-10th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

An enormous 300-year-old cypress tree (the reason for the chapel's alternative name) grows on one side of it, standing at over 85 feet tall. The tree's age and size have earned it a place in the list of Veteran Trees of Galicia, which is a record of the region's protected trees.

Chapel of San Salvador de Samos or del Ciprés (9th-10th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

In classical culture, the cypress tree symbolizes immortality (which is why cypresses are often found in cemeteries) and hospitality. A symbol of both, this chapel is located on one side of the cemetery, and very close to the monastery which provides hospitality to pilgrims on the St. James Way.

Chapel of San Salvador de Samos or del Ciprés (9th-10th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

Next to this magnificent cypress tree, and just below the current ground level, is the chapel's only entrance with its striking Mozarabic-style, horseshoe-shaped archway.

Interior of the chapel of San Salvador de Samos or del Ciprés (9th-10th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

The Mozarabic influence is also evident inside the chapel; specifically in the triumphal arch separating the building's two small spaces: the nave and the chapel.

Interior of the chapel of San Salvador de Samos or del Ciprés (9th-10th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

An additional treat awaits visitors to the inside of the chapel: Asturian-style frescoes dating back to the 10th century, which are among the oldest examples of mural paintings still in existence in Galicia.

Monastery of San Xulián de Samos (6th Century - 18th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Samos is a peaceful haven in which pilgrims can contemplate the historical origins, spirituality, and traditional hospitality of the St. James Way. This extraordinary place provides visitors with a truly unique experience.

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