Elisenda de Montcada as a house for the Poor Clares, it remains a working monastery for the order today but on a vastly reduced scale. The Order is housed in a small part of the original complex; the major buildings have been a museum since 1983. The church is still used by the Sisters for their daily worship and serves as a parish church for the local residents.
|The cobblestone street leads up past buildings that are currently used by the order - greatly reduced|
in size to a handful of nuns. The order has been expelled several times from Pedrables but has returned each time.
|Santa Maria de Pedrables faces a large and pleasant square which is now part of a residential complex. |
At one time it was monastery grounds which occupied much of the area. The building is a considered one
of the best examples of Catalan Gothic.
|A broad expanse of stairs once led to gardens and the palace of Queen Elisenda - it now leads to a residential area of Sarrià. The sector has always been considered one of the more desirable places to live in Barcelona.|
Queen Elisenda chose the site for the new monastery herself on one of the royal estates in the area of Pedralbes - a name which derives from the Latin Petras Albas or white stones. The first stone was laid by the monarchs in March 1326. By May of the following year work was sufficiently advanced that the first community of nuns - from the Convent of Saint Antony in Barcelona - took up residence.
Unusually the tomb of Queen Elisenda is double-sided and depicts her in the two periods of her adult life.
Facing the church is the Queen (below) while it is the widow and penitent that faces towards the cloister.
An unusual feature is the tomb of the founder - Elisenda's resting place is two sided. One side is built into the wall of the chancel of Santa Maria and the other into the wall of the cloister of the Monastery. The two tombs are mirror images save one important detail: the figure of Elisenda facing the church is that of a Queen, the figure facing the cloister that of the widow and penitent. The two phases of her life commemorated equally.
I have no idea what these creatures symbolize - if indeed they are anything other than the fantasies of the carver's imagination but I found them beguiling as so often these easily overlooked little details can be.
But the most delightful of these fantasy images has to be this marvelous carving of a dog tugging on an old man's beard. Did it have some sort of meaning that is lost to us today? Does it record some bit of local folklore in Sarrià? Was the carver getting his own back at someone he disliked? Or again is it just a little piece of artistic fantasy meant to intrigue - and in this solemn place bring a smile?
It is little details like this that have always fascinated me - that and the incredible talent of the wood carver in creating this small - easily overlooked - treasures.
**Until I was writing this post I hadn't thought much of the etymology of the word "pew"; apparently it comes from the Middle French - "puwe" which means a seat. It was first used to refer to seats in a balcony but later came to refer to benches or seats.
05 December - 1766: In London, James Christie holds his first sale.