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San Salvador de Lérez

San Salvador de LérezFather Feijóo in San Salvador de Lérez. Chema Fernández Román

This monastery is located near the mouth of the Lérez River, in the town of Pontevedra. Its double-arched gallery is adjacent to one of the church walls. Its façade is simple and sober up to the tower structure, decorated with baroque filigree. Very well restored, it is the destination of a pilgrimage that is held every year on 21 March to pay tribute to Saint Benedict, whose miracles were witnessed by Father Feijóo.

There is controversy on the year of its foundation. Father Yepes mentions the end of the 9th century, whereas Father Flórez says it was founded at the beginning of the 10th century. Although this is the less important, because sometimes there is no agreement on the dates of origin of many Galician monasteries and of the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. There are some documents that include information on the intention to found a monastery, on the starting date of the construction works, and others on the consecration of the church. King Ordoño II was reigning at that time: “We, King Ordoño and Queen Elvira, with the powerful and distinguished men of our curia, the Bishop of Iria, Sisnando…” The proximity of the monastery to the town of Pontevedra, perhaps conditioned the decision of Ferdinand II, in the 12th century, to grant this town its jurisdiction.

Some of the abbots later became bishops. In the case of Lérez, during the reign of Fray Benito Gesto, the altarpiece of the high altar of the church was built. This one, in the Baroque style, consists of three sections: the lower one, with bases that are the starting point of the classical Corinthian columns. The central one, with three aisles and five representations: in the centre, the one of the Saviour, and to the sides, on a smaller scale, other four. Finally, the upper one, over a broken entablature, which is the most colourful of all, where there are also representations and a curved broken pediment. The golden colour contributes to the magnificence of this altarpiece, which, like others from the Baroque period, is a symbol of the power of the Church over the unfaithful and Protestant world.

San Salvador de LérezAerial view
San Salvador de LérezFacade of the church

This altarpiece, which has a representation of Saint Benedict, dates back from the beginning of the 16th century. The other altarpieces are also part of the artistic and artisan work carried out in this monastery. The altarpiece was created during the counter-reformation of the Catholic Church against the Lutheran revolt in the 16th century. Its salomonic columns, its gildings, its broken pediments, the decoration and its grandiosity were an attempt to impress, like all Baroque art, as opposed to the simple and sober inside medieval churches.

During the Late Middle Ages and the Modern period the Lérez Monastery was, like many others, the economic hub of the region, dedicating part of its many properties to agriculture and livestock, but also to trade, especially of wine and grains.

San Salvador de LérezInterior of the church
San Salvador de LérezDetail of the arcade of the cloister

There is a small chapel dedicated to Saint. Benedict, which predates the monastery church. It was built between the 17th and 18th centuries. The courtyard, part of the cloister (with two sections and semi-circular arches) and the main staircase date from the 16th century, according to the work El monasterio de Lérez y su Colegio de Artes, by Crisanto Rial López. The refectory, the kitchen, the chapterhouse, the library and part of the cells are also preserved today.

In front of the statue of Saint Benedict there is a lamp which is always lit that contains the miracle oil of the Saint. Every year, coinciding with the festivity of the Saint, lots of visitors line up to receive the blessed, miraculous oil, which is used to treat warts and other skin conditions.  

The church has a sober façade, which may be attributed to the neoclassical style rather than the Baroque, and over the door there is a statue of Saint Benedict in a niche.

The monastery of San Salvador de Lérez was declared National Monument by decree on 21 June 1946.