Monastery of Santa María de Oseira

Be amazed by the Galician Escorial

Landscape in the surroundings of Oseira (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

The Camino de Santiago in the Ourense province is a rhythmic succession of vast landscapes with endless horizons …

Landscape in the surroundings of Oseira (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

… and little nooks filled with lush, wild nature, with surprises around every corner.

Monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira, aerial view (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

On our journey to Santiago de Compostela, we have not found anything quite as surprising as the architectural prowess of the Cistercian Monastery of Santa María de Oseira. Together with Sobrado Abbey which also belongs to the Cistercian order, we stand before the most spectacular monastery in rural Galicia.

Monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

As we step closer to the monastic workhouse, we gradually become aware of the mesmerizing scale of this building, one of the giants of the economic and religious landscape of inland Galicia for eight centuries.

Monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

Though it was originally built in the 12th century, almost all of the medieval monastery suffered a major fire in 1552. Most of the building that we can enjoy today comes from the monastery's reconstruction over a large part of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Facade of the monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

The sober style of the Cistercian architecture, which can especially be appreciated in the facades of the church and monastery, has earned its common comparison with the El Escorial monastery. Though this type of simile is cliché and overused, maybe this is one of the more justified ones.

Vault of the sotocoro of the church of the monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

The main object saved from the 16th century fire was the enormous church abbey, which has been brought up to date with minor touch-ups and primarily decorative additions. The Gothic sober style of its stonework is the paradigm of Cistercian postulations on precision in architecture.

Interior of the church of the monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

The full area is surrounded by wide lateral naves that also surround the major chapel as part of an architectural feature known as an ambulatory. This circuit around the perimeter is considered to be the influence of pilgrimage churches such as Santiago de Compostela Cathedral itself.

Interior of the church of the monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

The purity of the chancel, with the altar separated from the ambulatory by columns that visually connect both spaces, mean that this temple is considered one of the great masterpieces of medieval Cistercian architecture in Spain.

Dome of the church of the monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

This part of the church is where most of the preserved decoration has been concentrated, with highlights including the mural paintings on the arches and the dome above the transept.

Staircase of Honor of the monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

However, Santa María de Oseira is much more than just its church. The whole monastery celebrates stonework, as in the impressive staircase of honor in a Herrerian style, with its 24 steps decorated with diamond stones.

Monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

The vestry is a curious mix of styles belonging to different eras, with the more Gothic language of the arch combining with the classical notes of the decorative elements of the gateways.

Old Chapter House of the monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

The most sought-after residence for visitors and tourists is probably the legendary chapterhouse, with its twisted columns and its arches that are like palm trees as their ribs multiply. It is an architectural spectacle, achieved through the incredible expertise of the stonemasons.

Cloister of the Knights in the monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

With three stone cloisters, in line with a monastery that amassed huge amounts of property and riches throughout its history, Santa María de Oseira becomes a true monastic palace for spiritual withdrawal.

Cloister of the Pinnacles in the monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

The huge height of the cloister of the Pináculos, built from the mid 16th century to accommodate individual cells, is a reminder that this was the largest Galician monastery of its time.

Regular Cloister or Cloister of the Medallions in the monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

In these spaces for daily living, the drops of water, like a mantra, transport us back to the sounds of the past. If we pay attention, in the silence of the stone, we can distinguish the steps of the monks who lived in this formidable monastery for centuries.

Monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira, aerial view (1137)Regional Government of Galicia

Santa María de Oseira has a whole world hiding within it. It is a meditation space in the wilds of nature, and a whole chapter in the history of Galicia.

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