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Santa María de Armenteira

Santa María de ArmenteiraMonks harvesting grapes near the monastery. Chema Fernández Román

The Monastery of A Armenteira, run by Bernadine nuns, lays on a fertile valley in the town of Meis. Nearby is the highest peak, A Pedreira Hill (429 metres above sea level), and to the west is the Vea Hill (395 metres above sea level). At the bottom, we find the monastery, preceded by an arched portico.

King Ferdinand II of León, influenced by the Galician nobility, donated several properties to the monastery, as well as part of the income generated by the town of Pontevedra that belonged to the crown. In its origins, the monastery also received donations by the Froilaz family (second half of the 12th century). In the 13th century, the archbishop of Compostela, Juan Arias, condoned the taxes of the properties that the monks of A Armenteira had received from the crown, such as some in Vilalonga (today the town of Sanxenxo), O Grove and Gosende.

The Enlightened of the 18th century and the Liberals of the 19th century considered that the secular clergy (priests) had a reputable role, but the monks were thought to be useless and a hindrance to the economic growth. Thus, the community of monks had to abandon this monastery in 1837. The reconstruction of this building has its origin in an idea of Carlos Valle-Inclán, who, motivated by his father's work Aromas de leyenda: versos en loor de un santo ermitaño, undertook with a group of collaborators this rebuilding. Later, the monastery became the residence of a community of nuns from the Monastery of Alloz (Navarra).

Santa María de ArmenteiraSanta María de Armenteira
Santa María de ArmenteiraInside de cloister
Santa María de ArmenteiraSome monks with San Ero. Chema Fernández Román

There is a legend associated with this monastery. The nobleman Ero, who lived in the 12th century and was mentioned by Alfonso X in his poems, is the protagonist of this legend. He could have had military successes, which led King Alfonso VII to appoint him a courtier. This, however, did not satisfy Ero, who retired to his properties in O Salnés, where A Armenteira is located.

What is no history but legend is the dream that Ero and his wife had while they slept: they had no children, but the Virgin Mary assured them that they would have many children (this was important in the Middle Ages to ensure that the descendants would inherit and enlarge the heritage). A few days later, they decided to found two monasteries, one for women and the other for men. Ero made a request to receive monks from the Monastery of Claraval; shortly after they arrived, Ero was appointed second abbot of the monastery and her wife ran the monastery for women.

King Alfonso X's cantiga (medieval poetic song) tells the legend of the couple’s dream. Ero, who felt tired after having walked through his properties, decided to lie down under a tree to sleep for a while... When he woke up, he saw the beautiful monastery he had intended to build. He had slept for 300 years!

The monasteries used to be the centres of vineyard introduction in Galicia, especially in the late Middle Ages. The valleys of the rivers Miño, Sil, and Avia and the coastal areas, especially As Rías Baixas, were the regions with the largest number of grapevines. They were imported from different countries and adapted very well to the soil and environmental conditions of the area. In fact, the Monastery of A Armenteira was an important centre for vine growing and became the economic hub of the region.

Santa María de ArmenteiraAerial view
Santa María de ArmenteiraEntrance arch to the atrium

The preserved church has a façade in the Romanesque style, with several archivolts with splayed arches; on its top, there is a beautiful Gothic rose window, which reveals that this temple was built between the 12th and 13th centuries. Inside, we find three naves; the central one has pointed arches that support the vault, while the lateral ones have semi-circular arches.

The cloister is closed by ribbed vaults decorated with keystones. In addition, inside the church there is a stone baldachin in the Baroque style that harbours the image of a Virgin. The dome over the transept of the church, influenced by the caliphal style, stands out.

The Monastery of Santa María da Armenteira was declared National Monument by decree on 3 June 1931.