Art, Travel and Culture: Orense, the monastery of Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil
Shakespeare once spoke in his works about the subject of which dreams are made. I wonder what the famous playwright would have thought and written, had he had the opportunity to get close to the surroundings where this sweet material dream rises which, in short, is the monastery of Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil.
It is impossible to specify - and here we enter, even as a literary device, in the fascinating universe of Platonic myths - at what precise historical moment the shadow of this project left the darkness of the Cave to be born to the world of the Idea, although everything seems to indicate that its origins, like those of the nearby monastery of San Pedro de Rocas, were also intrinsically hermitic.
Notwithstanding the same, and perhaps obeying this phenomenon common to most of the peoples of this old Iberia not to resort to the help of writing but centuries after the events take place and on a reduced scale, generally, of doors inwards in the dark medieval scriptoriums from which the majority of ancient text emerged, in the case of this monastery of Santa Cristina, there are documentary references that, at least, indicate its existence as early as the ninth century.
Although, however, what is seen at first glance -and in this, its charm far exceeds that of Santo Estevo-, dates from the 12th and 13th centuries, with the exception of the small cloister, which was built in the 16th century , when already the monastery, come to less, happened to depend on that one, like priorato, by Bula of the Pope Leon X, of date 24 of August of 1518.
This does not mean, of course, that for some authors, such as Gregorio de Argaiz, 1675, they thought that its foundation was earlier, going back, at least, to the times when San Martín Dumiense was crushing all the megalithic sanctuaries that were in his way, citing certain documents that, according to him-in fact, I recognize that I do not know if they are still preserved, although they do not seem to be cited in the current sources-were found in the archives of the Cathedral of Lugo.
Possibly from those theoretical origins of the ninth century, origins, which also shares the Father Yepes, are some of the extraordinary sepulchral laudas that are still preserved in the monastic enclosure, through whose inscriptions, you know at least the name of one of its first abbots: Gundesindo. And it is also known who was the last abbot commendatario, when the place happened to depend on the nearby monastery of Santo Estevo: Don Fernando de Sequeira.
On the other hand, and also going to the classical sources, it is difficult not to share the impression of Father Sarmiento, who, during a visit and in relation to the Romanesque factory of the church, described it, admiringly and accurately, among the good of the region of Sil. That did not prevent, however, that in 1835, as a result of the Confiscation decreed by Mendizábal, both the dependencies of the nearby monastery of Santo Estevo, and those of this other splendid monastery of Santa Cristina, were plunged into the most absolute abandonment, with the cessation of monastic activities, coming to be used as private homes, and even also, as stables and barns, common note, unfortunately, to many and irreplaceable artistic gems, such as - just to cite one example, obviously, without disparagement to the numerous that, as has been said, exist-, the Soria monastery of San Juan de Duero or the also Soria shrine of San Miguel de Gormaz.
More modern than the paintings of the latter-remember in them, the same hand or workshop that executed the wonderful pictorial set of San Baudelio de Berlanga and Vera Cruz de Maderuelo, exposed the last and part of the first (1) in the Museum of the Prado of Madrid-, the paintings that decorate the head of the church of Santa Cristina, however, do not waste either. In them, with evident intentionality, the anonymous artist called attention to the hermetic medieval stonemasons' fraternities, when he endowed known figures of the saints with unmistakably Masonic symbols.
But, in any case, very relevant saints and saints, at least by virtue of their attributes and meanings: San Antón, with the tau and the bell; Santiago el Justo or perhaps San Judas Tadeo, with the unmistakable squad of carpenters in hand; Santa Lucia and Santa Barbara, one with the eyes - or the interior vision - on one tray and the other with the tower, or the force that characterizes it, etc. (2).
Details that, together with the small pyramid that crowns the tower -exceptionally visible from the different viewpoints, but unique in its kind, in addition, throughout the province, although within the characteristic Romanesque of some areas such as O Cebreiro, is detected in its towers the existence of a small temple of conical shape-refer to a very special knowledge; knowledge, of marked oriental character, as it has been said, on whose origin it could be speculated long and tended and possibly had something to do, according to the period to which it belongs -siglos XII or XIII-, with that architectural current brought by the crusaders , including the members of the military orders, of the Holy Land.
And in relation to them, it would be possible to speculate, in addition, that some of their knights or leaders had decided to retire and end their days not only here, but also in some of the abundant and formidable monasteries of the region.
As in the nearby monastery of San Pedro de Rocas, the telluric characteristics of the place are also noteworthy, located in the vicinity of that crossbow curve that forms the Sil - paraphrasing Don Antonio Machado, when he described the Duero as it passed through Soria and San Saturio-, and those formidable forests, where there is a very special species of tree: the chestnut tree or carballo.
In fact, just a few meters from the church of Santa Cristina, you have the impression of reliving the old Celtic cults, in a chestnut tree, whose appearance denotes a rather more than remarkable antiquity, in which not only the main figures of San Bieito and Santa Cristina, but it is also appreciated, in the stones and ex-votos carefully deposited in the hollows of the trunk or in the branches, that ancestral and pagan custom, maintained in force by the pilgrims of all times and places, to propitiate with his offering the favor of the roadways.
In short, not only can you consider this monastery of Santa Cristina as one of the most attractive places of the many that are located on either side of this special area called Rovoyra Sacrata, which forms a border between the provinces of Lugo and Orense, but also, we have to consider it as a historical-artistic ensemble of the first magnitude, whose mysteries and wonders - attention, also to the magnificent rosette -, deserve the effort, at least, of a careful and accurate visit.
(1) I think we all know the sad fate of the sale of these extraordinary paintings of San Baudelio de Berlanga, and the details of his trip to New York, where they shine with all their splendor in the The Cloisters Museum, although the few that recovered and that currently are exhibited in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, cost another painful mess: the change of the magnificent paintings of the apse of the church of San Martín, in the Segovian town of Fuentidueña.
(2) The representations of the apostles with attributes and tools characteristic of the trades are frequent: San Simón, the sierra; Santiago the Younger, the abatanar mallet; San Matías, the ax; San Bartolomé, the skinning knife ...
NOTICE: originally published in my blog ROMÁNICA, ENIGMAS DEL ROMÁNICO ESPAÑOL. Both the text, as the photographs, and the video (except music, reproduced under a YouTube license), are my exclusive intellectual property. The original entry, where you can check the authorship of juancar347, can be found at the following address: https://juancar347-romanica.blogspot.com/2014/03/santa-cristina-de-ribas-de-sil.html
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