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Santa María de Aciveiro

Santa María de AciveiroIlustration of the Santa María de Aciveiro by Chema Fernández Román

This monastery is located in the town of Forcarei near O Candán Hills, to the west of the Deza River. Nowadays it is totally rebuilt to serve as hostelry. Its floor plan is trapezoidal, with two simple and lovely gardens and the outstanding church has walls and buttresses.

The landscape stands out for its greenness, its meadows and the native trees, and it has an easy access from the road which connects Forcarei with the towns of Lalín and Silleda. The hollies (acivros) existing years ago were perhaps what originated the name of this monastery. Frequently, the wintry snow covers the heights, which allowed the monks to get rents for the use of snowdrifts located in their lands.

The inscription on a wall of the church shows the year of its foundation (1135) which places us once again in the century of the expansion of the Benedictine order in Galicia, the royal donations and the rise of the monastery. The King Alfonso VII called out some monks to come from Clairvaux (France), where the monk Bernard was carrying out important reforms, in order to colonise the area. But it was some decades later when the monastic community became Cistercian.

As in other cases, some of the abbots of Aciveiro were members of the Galician nobility, who took the vows in the monastery to increase the influence of their lineage. This is the case of Pedro Martínez, whose family had donated properties to the monastery.

Santa María de AciveiroPorter´s lodge
Santa María de AciveiroAerial view

One of the most remarkable conflicts, the Irmandiño Revolts, is the background of one of the most curious legends, that of the bear from the parish of Oseira: the abbot Gonzalo das Penas, while visiting the Monastery of Oseira (Ourense) with a dove on his shoulder, the monks did not let him pass for fear of the noble attacks of that period. Then, Gonzalo kissed his dove and it got inside the monastery, what allowed the door to open and the rebellious nobles used the occasion to take possession of it; but then a huge bear appeared and it faced up to them and chased them away…

The snowdrifts were deposits of snow, conserving it to use it in summer by pressing techniques. In ancient times there were difficulties in preserving food, so these snowdrifts were really useful and thanks to them the monastery obtained important rents. These structures were in the towns of Fixó, Millerada and Forcarei; but they weren’t always in hands of the Monastery of Aciveiro, but with the passage of time they became property of the archbishops of Santiago de Compostela.

Santa María de AciveiroRoom of the hotel
Santa María de AciveiroRoom of the hotel

In the northeast of the Monastery of Aciveiro, in the village of Lamasgalán de Abaixo, people can follow the ancient route that goes through Mouro Negro, Pena do Trigo and, more to the south, through Andón, A Cabana, O Forno and Aciveiro. The landscape and the views are stunning in O Candán Hills.

Just as in other monasteries, nature, art and history are combined with legend. The monks that lived in Aciveiro changed the landscape making the peasantry turn forests into meadows, brushwoods into roads, swamps into houses, and solitude into prayers. They could not imagine that today the restored monastery would be a hostelry. Those monks also gave shelter to pilgrims and beggars lost in this place, harsh in winter and full of life and nature in spring and summer.

The Monastery of Santa María de Aciveiro was declared National Monument by decree on 3 June 1931. It also belongs to the European Route of Cistercian abbeys and sites and it is member of the Cistercian monasteries association of Galicia ACIGAL.