Once you have crossed the threshold of the portal, you come into the area that leads into the monastery. The area as we see it today is the result of alterations done in the mid-18th century. Prior to the community’s expulsion from the monastery, this area was given over to services outside the monastic life, such as the stables and workshops, as well as the homes of the lay population that served the monastery. These services included the smithy, which occupied one of the buildings adjoining the gate.
The Gate of the Assumption leads into the semi-cloistered area, currently called the Plaça de Sant Bernat Calbó. The customs of the Cistercian order called for this transitional space between the cloister and the world outside so that the monastery could fulfil its duties of hospitality and deal with the financial activities in which it was involved with no interference in the life of the community.
In the 16th century, Abbot Jeroni Contijoc (1560-93) moved his residence from the rear cloister to Plaça de Sant Bernat. The new palace used part of the structure of the former Hospital of Sant Pere i Sant Pau for the poor, built in the 13th century thanks to a bequest from Ramon Alemany de Cervelló for the construction and upkeep of a hospital that would take in pilgrims and give alms to the poor.
According to the ideal concept of a Cistercian monastery, the rooms and outbuildings occupied by lay brothers were to have been built in this now empty space. Monks and lay brothers alike lived in the monastery, the difference between them being whether they had made a monastic profession. This difference, often determined by social origin and educational level, was particularly marked in monastic life. Monks and lay brothers took on very different tasks and even occupied separate spaces within the monastery. The monks devoted themselves mainly to study, whereas the lay brothers did the manual labour. Lay brothers were exempt from complying with all the religious duties to ensure that they could devote themselves to farm work, crafts and the maintenance required for the upkeep of the community.
The monastery did not have defensive walls properly speaking but was fortified by raising the height of the walls of the cloistered complex and reinforcing them with battlements. In order to protect the defenders, the gap between the battlements was covered with folding pieces of wood.
The Royal Door was the main entrance to the enclosed monastery. It was built as part of the works to construct the Gothic cloister in the 15th century and was sponsored by James II and Blanche of Anjou, as indicated by the royal effigies and coats of arms sculpted in the arch over the door.
A small edifice extends off to the side of the south gallery of the cloister. This houses the basin where monks washed their hands before entering the refectory. According to the ideal plan of Cistercian monasteries, the lavatorium would be situated in front of the refectory.
In front of the lavatorium is a door that, in accordance with the guidelines for Cistercian architecture, must have led to the old refectory. Alongside it, there would have been the kitchen and the cellar, which has also disappeared. Even though nothing of the refectory has survived, documentation reveals that Queen Blanche of Anjou provided a legacy in her will for it to be constructed.
One of the daily rituals of monastic life took place in the chapter house, the reading of a chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict. The chapter house is one of the most significant rooms in a monastery due to the importance of its function, and in the case of Santes Creus, it is one of the most outstanding rooms at an architectural level. This space is part of the first section to be constructed, dating from the 12th century, and is notable for its austerity, simplicity and balance.
The chapel occupies the space of the monastery’s former armarium, where the books used in the chapter and during reading sessions in the cloister were kept. In 1558, it was converted into the funerary chapel of Magdalena Valls de Salbà, the sister of Abbot Jaume Valls. The works were paid for by a bequest that Magdalena herself left in her will.
Work began on the construction of Santes Creus church in 1174. Even though the works continued until the early 14th century, it opened for worship in 1211. The church, dedicated to Mary, Mother of God, as is the custom in the Cistercian order, was for the private use of the community. It was not until the seizure of Church property that it took on the role of the parish church, which the Church of Santa Llúcia had previously been.
The parlour connects the main cloister and the rear cloister. It was a thoroughfare but also a meeting place, as demonstrated by the stone benches up against the wall that were formerly lined with wood to make them more comfortable. The monks were able to hold brief conversations here, though always prudently, since the Cistercians lived in silence as they believed in its spiritual benefits.
Santes Creus has a second and more artistically simple cloister that structures the outbuildings situated at the rear. It was built in the second half of the 14th century, during the time of Abbot Guillem Ferrera, in order to provide some order to this area and to connect the abbot’s palace with the rest of the monastery.
One of the tasks undertaken by medieval monasteries was to copy manuscripts and to draft documents. Cistercian monks also engaged in this work but St. Benedict laid down restrictive rules to preserve the order’s austerity by reducing the range of colours, limiting ornamentation to capital letters and eliminating figurative elements. Even so, the order also produced lavishly illuminated manuscripts when these precepts were relaxed.
A small door leads into the prison cell, a cramped and damp space used as punishment and penitence cell by the brothers. The abbot needed to know the most appropriate way to correct the behaviour of his monks and would even consider the possibility of physical punishment. In the most extreme cases, he might even contemplate a prison sentence.
The construction of a new refectory meant that the kitchen had to be moved so that it was next to the monks’ dining room. Most of the roof over the room has disappeared and there are few elements that make it possible to determine its original function. The surviving remains include the water conduits and the basins, a table and a stone hearth where pots were placed over the heat. There is also a hand mill and the remains of millstones from a flourmill.
The refectory of the rear cloister appears in documents dating from the 16th century, though its appearance today is due to works done in 1733 to allow more natural light to enter by raising the ceiling and opening up two additional windows, one at each end, above the cloister galleries.
The palace was the abbot’s residence and the centre of the administration of the monastery. The functions of the abbot of Santes Creus were not confined to the spiritual guidance and governance of the monastic community, as he also had duties as a feudal lord and a Church representative of the Corts (Catalan Parliament). In addition, for a very long time he enjoyed a close relationship with the Crown thanks to the fact that the abbots of Santes Creus also held the title of Royal High Chaplain. By virtue of his position and authority, the abbot was obliged to maintain constant contact with the outside world, justifying his need for a residence of his own, through which he was also able to express the power of the monastery.
Once the Cistercians had decided to settle in these lands on the bank of the Gaià River, the community from Valldaura would have erected these temporary buildings for use while the basic rooms of the monastery were being constructed. These building were later remodelled and remained in use till the monks were expelled. It is known that there were buildings with coffered ceilings made of wood and plaster in the 16th century.
Situated in the rear part of the monastery complex, the Chapel of the Holy Trinity was undoubtedly the community’s first church from the time it moved into Santes Creus in the 12th century to the opening of the main church for worship in 1211. Subsequently, when new outbuildings were constructed in the rear cloister, it was turned into the infirmary’s chapel.
Retired monks who had been in the community for more than 40 years and elderly monks lived in especially adapted homes built in front of the palace, on the opposite side of the cloister. Very little evidence remains of this construction, though an impressive long and very flattened Catalan or segmental arch has survived, despite the destruction caused during the Third Carlist War (1872-1876).
The origins of this building go back to the refurbishment work begun on the monastery in the 17th century in order to reorganise the community’s living space. This new construction would have housed stores for clothing and washing-places on the ground floor, while the upper floor was given over to the infirmary.
In 1575, Abbot Jeroni Contijoc ordered the construction of the Tower of the Hours for the bells that are operated by the church clock machinery and which ring to mark the rhythm of monastic life.
The dormitory was included in the first phase of construction. Work on it began in 1191 and was completed in 1225, though some historians suggest that the construction could have continued in a second phase that ended in the second half of the 13th century.
La visita al Reial monestir de Santes Creus permet descobrir un monestir que destaca per seguir amb gran fidelitat l'estructura arquitectònica concebuda per Bernat de Claravall per al monestir de Clairvaux al segle XII.
La clau que defineix aquesta arquitectura n'és la supeditació a les exigències de la vida monacal. Els espais estan pensats per complir una funció i s'ordenen per facilitar al màxim la senzilla vida dels seus habitants, marcada per unes normes que regulen tasques i horaris i que defineixen l'aïllament del món.
Els monjos cistercencs viuen apartats i, per això, el monestir té un recinte tancat en ell mateix, anomenat clausura. S'hi troben tots els espais clau per la vida del monjo. Tant és així que, resseguint les estances, se'n poden redescobrir les pautes de vida. A Santes Creus, a més, la disposició d'aquestes dependències es caracteritza perquè segueix amb una gran fidelitat el plànol ideal de sant Bernat.
Malgrat tot, el monestir no era un ens aïllat. La comunitat mantenia una relació habitual amb els habitants dels seus dominis feudals per a afers derivats de l'administració de les seves propietats, per cobrar les rendes o per impartir justícia. A més, el vincle feudal obligava els vassalls a emprar determinats serveis que el monestir posseïa en monopoli, com ara el molí, el forn o la farga. Així, la ferreria es trobava dins el mateix complex, mentre que al voltant del monestir hi havia dos molins fariners. Igualment, els preceptes de l'orde marcaven l'obligació d'acollida, especialment de pelegrins, que arribaven a Santes Creus atrets per les relíquies de Maria Magdalena, un culte que va tenir molta popularitat entre els segles XIV i XV.
L'espai per desenvolupar aquestes funcions es concretava en dos recintes més, al marge de la clausura. El primer, obert a tothom, acollia la porteria, la parròquia i els serveis. El segon, amb un accés restringit, era l'espai de relació dels monjos amb l'exterior, on hi havia l'hostatgeria i les dependències d'administració.
Si bé totes aquestes estructures responen als cànons cistercencs, Santes Creus també amaga sorpreses. El vincle amb la Casa Reial el converteix en un lloc excepcional. La voluntat dels monarques que Santes Creus fos un lloc majestuós per acollir el panteó reial implicava la introducció d'estils trencadors amb l'austeritat cistercenca. D'aquí, el contrast entre la senzillesa de l'església i l'escultura de les tombes i del claustre, o entre els vitralls de les naus laterals i els del finestral gòtic de la façana. Els monarques van imposar el seu criteri per sobre de les normes de la comunitat. Aquest impuls innovador comportà que a Santes Creus s'aixequés el primer claustre d'estil gòtic de la Corona d'Aragó.
De la mateixa manera que els monarques van utilitzar el claustre i les tombes reials com a expressió del seu poder, en diferents indrets del recinte es troben detalls arquitectònics i escultòrics de diferents èpoques que donen testimoni del poder que el monestir va mantenir fins a la seva desaparició, al segle XIX.