Catalonia Romanesque - Guide to Churches and Monasteries

Catalonia Romanesque - Churches of the Vall de Boí- Taüll

The Vall de Boí, located in the northeastern area of the Catalan county of Alta Ribagorça, is a narrow valley which is best known for its nine early Romanesque churches.

This site has the densest concentration of Romanesque architecture in Europe, and has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

catalonia romanesque culture sant climent de taull vall de boi

All the churches date back to the 11th and 12th centuries, and are considered to be the purest examples of Catalan Lombard Romanesque art.

Characteristic features of the churches are their finely worked stone and beautiful bell towers.

Here's a list of the Catalonia Romanesque churches in Vall de Boí:

  • Sant Climent de Taüll

  • Santa Maria de Taüll

  • Sant Feliu de Barruera

  • Sant Joan de Boí

  • Santa Eulàlia d'Erill-la-Vall

  • Santa Maria de l'Assumpció de Cóll

  • Santa Maria de Cardet

  • Nativitat de la Mare de Déu de Durro

  • L'ermita de Sant Quirc de Durro


Catalonia Romanesque - Art and Architecture in the Val d'Aran

The stunning valley of Val d'Aran boasts one of the most impressive Romanesque routes in Catalonia, and in all the Pyrenees mountains.

Some of the most important churches in Val d'Aran are

  • Sant Joan d'Arties

  • Santa Eulàlia d'Unha

  • Sant Andreu de Salardú

  • Sant Martí d'Arro

  • l'Assumpció de Bossòst

  • Sant Miquel de Vielha

  • Sant Crist de Mitjarán


The Cathedral of Santa Maria de la Seu d'Urgell and the Diocesian Museum

This emblematic Pyrenees cathedral, located in the town of la Seu d'Urgell; the capital of Alt Urgell, is the only Romanesque cathedral that has been conserved in Catalonia.

It was built in the 11th and 12th centuries, replacing the original 8th century church that stood here.

It's design is of the Lombard - Itlalianised, Catalonia Romanesque style, which, at the time, was a departure from the tendency of the day to use Romanesque influences from the south of France.

Important features of this Catalan Cathedral include a polychrome engraving of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus in her lap (13th century), the perfectly symmetrical façade, with its geometric moldings, the campanile, and the impressive chapel of Sant Miquel.

catalonia romanesque culture la seu d'urgell cathedral

Also inside, is the Catalonia Diocesan Museum of La Seu d'Urgell. It houses an amazing collection of ancient religious art, including many mural paintings (some from the 12th and 13th centuries), sculptures, plus gold and silver craft-work from parish churches throughout the diocese of Catalonia.

The museum's greatest treasure is without a doubt, the tenth-century Beatus, which is an illustrated Visigoth manuscript detailing a story of the Apocalypse.

In 1996 the Beato de Liebana codex was stolen from this Catalonia church by a French art-lover, and was gone for 4 months. The thief was eventually caught, and was sent to prison.

The Beatus was recovered, and brought back to Catalonia, albeit with page number 15 missing, which had been sold to an unidentified art collector.

This Catalan Diocesan Museum also holds the oldest known map of the Pyrenees mountains.

Also worthy of a visit is the Church of Sant Miquel.

This 11th century Catalonia Romanesque style church is adjoined to the cloister of the Cathedral of Santa Maria de la Seu d'Urgell.

Church of Sant Jaume de Frontanyà

The church of Sant Jaume de Frontanya is set amongst the beautiful surroundings of the Berguedà region, in the Pyrenees mountains of Catalonia.

It was built around 1070 as a small community of Augustinian canons.

Sant Jaume de Frontanyà is a prime example of Catalan Romanesque architecture from the 11th century.

Notable characteristics of the building are the unity, simplicity and pure lines of its construction.The decor and design is functional and austere.

This ancient church is considered to be the 'architectural jewel of the Berguedà region,' and a favourite among all Catalonia Romanesque.

There is a Catalonia cultural route starting from Sant Jaume de Frontanyà and going to El Puig de Faig i Branca.

The route is well signposted, with the yellow and white markings of the PR C-51 and the red and white markings of the GR-241 (the former GR-4-1 of Catalonia).

Church of Santa Maria de Talló

The large basilica of Santa Maria de Talló is in the village Talló, which is situated at an altitude of 1,060 metres, to the south of Bellver de Cerdanya, Catalonia.

Documents from the 9th century indicate that at one point there was a canon established here, as well as an ancient monastery.

Santa Maria de Talló played a significant role in religious life of la Cerdanya, and it's power lasted until well into the 10th Century.

This imposing church is on the route of the Cathars/Cami dels Bons Homes, also known as the Segadors route of Catalonia.

It's located at the beginning of the route.

Chapel of El Miracle de Riner

This chapel is located in a town called Riner, in Solsonès, Lleida of Catalonia.

The church was built after, in 1458, an apparition of the Virgin was said to appear to two boys watching over cattle in the field.

Cirosa is the name of the old stone farmhouse of the boys; it is still standing, and pretty much looks the same now, as it did five hundred years ago.

El Miracle is now a large Sanctuary, and is one of the ten most popular shrines in Catalonia.

Highlights of the church include its large collection of paintings, and a magnificent 18th Century Baroque altarpiece, by the Catalan artist Carles Moretó.

Monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll

The Monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll is a Benedictine monastery, built in the Catalonia Romanesque style, in the town of Ripoll, (Ripollés, Girona) in the Catalan Pyrenees.

A structure was originally built here in Visigoth times, but was later destroyed by the Muslim invaders. Then, in 879, it was rebuilt by Count Wilfred the Hairy, as a Benedictine monastery.

Romanesque style was used here in the 10th century, and in the 12th century a detailed sculptural church portico. This door is an excellent example of Catalonia's Romanesque art, and has become the Monastery's most important feature.

The monastery of Ripoll played an important role in the building of Catalonia. It had influence not just in religion, but in all aspects of life, including political, social and cultural.

Other interesting features of the Monastery of Ripoll are its mausoleum, which is the resting place of the Catalan counts, some works of art, a Gothic alabaster altarpiece, and the bell tower.

catalonia Romanesque - pyrenees culture monastery of Ripoll

Another nearby site that's worth a visit is the church of Sant Cristofor in Beget, a 10th century Catalonia Romanesque temple, found in the town of Beget.

The area of Ripoll, Catalonia, has lots of other cultural gems to visit, including the dolmens in El Sot de Dones Mortes or in Pardinella.

Tombs from the times of the late Roman occupation age, and some from the Visigoths can also be seen in this region of the Catalonia Pyrenees.

Monastery and Museum of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

catalonia pyrenees culture monastery of sant joan de abadesses

After founding the Monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll, Count Wilfred the Hairy founded the Monastery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses (in 857) so that he could provide a home for his daughter Emma, and for the community of Benedictine nuns of which she was the abbess.

Mystery and legend surround the monastery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses. Most of them having to do with stories of Count Arnau's visits to the monastery and of the seemingly immoral lives that were led by the nuns.

The story tells of how the infamous Count Arnau's, this area's equivalent to Don Juan, used to arrive on horseback to pay night visits to Emma, the abbess. And, that even after she died, he continued his torrid visits, and managed to seduce a few lower-ranking nuns as well.

When the new abbess learned of all the scandal she immediately tried to secure the monastery and keep unwanted visitors out.

But, Arnau, having apparently made a pact with the devil, used his satanic powers and managed to slip right through the very walls themselves.

Arnau eventually fell in love with a local girl, who understandably rejected his persistent advances. One day Arnau came upon his true love, recently dead. As he came up to her body she suddenly came back to life, just for a moment, in order to scold him in an unearthly voice for his disgraceful life of bad conduct. Count Arnau, now extremely afraid and feeling very guilty, fled back to his feudal lands, utterly destroyed, and doomed to drift aimlessly in the hills forever.

For centuries people of the area of Catalonia have protested to seeing the grievous ghost of old Count Arnau, on stormy nights in the cloister of the Monastery; or, more commonly in Gombrèn where he allegedly appears as a menacing apparition, riding on horseback, and accompanied by a ghostly pack of howling dogs.

Eventually, in the 11th century, all of the female community was expelled from the Monastery, in all likelihood for reasons of 'disorderly conduct.'

Apart from all the sordid stories and scandal that surround the Monastery, there's still plenty to admire at Sant Joan de les Abadesses.

Other highlights include: the Saint Augustine Altarpiece, the White Virgin Altarpiece, the Sepulchre of Blessed Miró and the Baroque Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows.

catalonia romanesque culture monastery of sant joan de abadesses 2

The most interesting piece in the church is the 13th-century Santíssim Misteri; a group of big, wooden sculptures, which represent the 'Descent of Christ from the Cross', and date back to the transition period between Catalonia Romanesque and Gothic art.

The museum of the monastery should not be missed.It houses a collection of sculptures, paintings, textiles and silverware that give us a glimpse of life in the monastery and the Catalan town that grew up around it.

Monastery of Sant Pere de Roda

The monastery of Sant Pere is located in Port de la Selva, of the pretty valley of Camprodon, in the county of Alt Emopordá, and the province of Girona, Catalonia.

It's home, the town of Camprodon; also known as 'the emerald of the Pyrenees', is set amongst some stunning countryside, dotted with mountain hamlets, and overlooking the Cap de Creus peninsula and Gulf of Lions, on the Catalonia coast.

First mention of this former Benedictine monastery came in the year 878; but it was actually consecrated in the year 905.

And, according to legend, was built in this spot in Catalonia by Christians who were fleeing from Rome, and took it as a sign from God that they had been stranded here.

The monastery was built halfway up the hillside of the Verdera mountain, and just below the ruins of the castle of Sant de Verdera, which provided protection for it in the past.

catalonia pyrenees culture st pere de rodes monastery

Sant Pere de Roda is one of the most famous structures in Catalonia, and due to it's architectural importance and spectacular location, it has been declared an Artistic-Historic Monument.

Near the monastery you can also visit the ruins of a medieval town called Santa Creu de Rodes.

Since ancient times this settlement has been connected to the monastery, and presided over by the pre-Romanesque church that still stands here today.

Other pretty places to visit in this area of Catalonia are: Llanars, Mollo or Setcases.

Abbey of Santa Maria de Gerri de la Sal

This lonely old Catalonia Romanesque church, built in the 9th century was once part of an old Benedictine abbey.

It's located on a site where a Visigoth monastery once stood, across from the Gerri de la Sal (old salt deposits), in the Catalan county of Pallars Sobirà.

Santa Maria de Gerri de la Sal is a big building with a beautiful three story bell tower, a single nave, two aisles and three apses.

Nearby sites include the outlying hamlets of Montcortès de Pallars, near the lake of the same name, Peramea, Baén, and Espluga de Cuberes.

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