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San Xoán de Poio

San Xoán de PoioEarly monastery of Poio. Chema Fernández Román

This monastery is located on a plain over the inlet Ría de Pontevedra. It was occupied at the end of the 19th century by Mercedarians monks, who were dedicated to rescuing captives. But it was founded as a Benedictine complex.

The oldest written testimony that documented the existence of the monastery of Poio, which later reached an economical and cultural importance, dates from 942 (in the 10th century). First, it was a humble monastery, but at the end of the 15th century, it was rebuilt and became accountable to the monastery of San Benito de Valladolid.

In the past, the inhabitants of Poio were not settled on the coastline, as they do today, but on the southern slope that falls towards the coast, where the agricultural lands were more suitable for cultivation. In the 18th century, the Father Sarmiento, after climbing the Castrove Hill, left written the following: “En todo cuando anduve de marina, desde O Ferrol hasta A Guarda y Tui, non encontré punto de visión más hermoso, que este sitio de Castrove… Se ve todo lo mejor de Galicia.”(In all my sea travels, from O Ferrol to A Guarda and Tui, I have not found a more beautiful viewpoint than this place in Castrove. The best of Galicia can be admired.)

In 1881, while the Mercedarian province of Castile, including Galicia, was restored, the re-establishment of the Mercedarian monks in Conxo (Santiago de Compostela) was authorised. As their settling in this town became insufficient, in 1890 the monks moved into the monastery of Poio, which was in very bad conditions due to the abandonment suffered since 1830, when the Benedictine monks were expelled.

San Xoán de PoioFacade of the church
San Xoán de PoioAerial view

Its restoration meant a great effort for the Mercedarians, who shared the building with a chocolate factory until 1934. Classes were given in there, the library was retrieved and the church restored, and on 24 September 1959 the construction of the new building began. The aim was to establish a major seminary, but finally it was dedicated to hostelry, with 223 rooms.

The façade of the church is an evidence of the Baroque style and it has 3 parts. The lower, with two columns of Giant order over big plinths, rises to the central part, and the upper one is formed by the towers, which are more Baroque than the façade.

The inside of the church is covered by a big barrel vault with lunettes, which was finished in 1708. The chapel of Christ houses the sarcophagus of Saint Trahamunda, from the 6th century. It is said that she travelled to the Holy Land on pilgrimage, which is more legend than history.

San Xoán de PoioExhibit room
San Xoán de PoioExhibit room

The main altarpiece is a 17th-century Baroque work with spiral columns, plenty of ornaments and images of saints. The most remarkable are the images of the Virgin of Mercy and Saint John Baptist. The chapel of Christ—in the late Gothic style (16th century)—boasts an altarpiece with images of the Passion of Christ and of Saint Trahamunda and her palm tree, referring to her travel to the Holy Land.

This monastery houses a treasure that no other in Galicia has: its library. Its collections, which have been catalogued for the last years, include history, morals, economy, bibles, genealogies, travels, ordinances, dictionaries, art, etc. The visit to this library takes us back to a time of ancient arches and, simple and calm atmosphere. The feeling of seclusion is overwhelming.

San Xoán de PoioCloister
San Xoán de PoioCloister

The gallery in the cloister so-called Cruceiro or de los Naranjos hosts the monumental mosaic of the Way of Saint James, from Paris to Santiago de Compostela. It was designed by the Czech artist Antoine Machourek (1913-1991), who founded the Mosaic School in the monastery. This work of art, divided into three sections, is 80 metres long and 2.5 metres high (200 m2).

The monastery of Poio housed in its facilities the first Stonework School in Galicia, which was created on 15 January 1979 by the former Minister for Culture, Pío Cabanillas, from Pontevedra. These spaces were transferred for free by the Mercedarian monks, and in October 2000 this school was moved to its current site in Boa Vista (A Caeira).

The monastery of San Xoán de Poio was declared National Monument by decree on 13 August 1971.