Real Monasterio de Santa María de Sigena
El Real Monasterio de Santa María de Sigena (The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Sigena) which was declared a National Monument in the year 1923 is the main monumental attraction of Villanueva de Sigena and one of the greatest artistic treasures of Aragon. This huge and solemn monastery is one of the most important centres of religious tourism and pilgrimage in Huesca, Aragon.
The monastry was founded on the banks of the River Alcanadre in 1188 by Queen Sancha of Castile, wife of King Alfonso II. (first king of the “Corona de Aragón” (Crown of Aragon)). According to legend, the monastery was built in the place where he found an image of the Virgin Mary in the parish of Sigena, that he believed to be lost or stolen.
Functions of the Monastry
It was the main monastery for nuns of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and it accepted, “dueñas” (owners) or prominent religious women from the most noble families of Aragon. The first nun ordained at this monastery, was Doña Dulce, daughter of Doña Sancha and King Alfonso II of Aragon. She died the following year and was buried in the monastery. Also buried in it was its founder: Doña Sancha of Castile (daughter of Alfonso VII "El Emperador"(The Emperor)) and her son King Pedro II "el Católico" (the Catholic).
Apart from being a hospitable monastery and a Royal Pantheon it also had the role of a court archive. At its peak in the fourteenth century, more than 100 nuns, daughters of noble families of the Kingdom, came to live there with their attendants and servants.
The monastery was built in a late Romanesque and Cistercian style. It was one of the greatest artistic treasures of Aragon. Unfortunately, the monastery was burned and almost completely destroyed during the early days of the Civil War of 1936. The fire at the monastery lasted several days, and reduced to ashes an invaluable part of our artistic heritage. All that survived were the Romanesque Church and the Royal Pantheon, while the tombs of the kings of Aragon were brutally desecrated. Now we can only see the sandstone tombs of Queen Sancha and her children, King Pedro II, The Infant Doña Dulce and Countess Leonor of Aragon.
The beautiful paintings of the late twelfth or early thirteenth century that covered the walls were lost, along with its coffered ceiling and library. Some of the frescoes and drawings of the Chapter House were saved from the fire and they are currently showing at the Art Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona.
Today, the important medieval building left standing is the church and the other buildings next to it. In the square stands the monastery hostelry, the ruins of the Priory Palace and the church. La Torre de Señales (The Signal Tower) was built in the twelfth century and beside it stands a solid rectangular stone tower of the old fortification. The impressive front of the temple is symbolic and it is one of the most characteristic elements of the monastery. You can admire its façade of fourteen flared columns and archivolts. To the right of the cover there is a gap that was the resting place of the remains of Don Rodrigo de Lizana, whose sarcophagus without decoration, "disappeared" in the mid 70's.
The nuns of Sigena
In 1985 a community of nuns from France, las Hermanas de Belén y de la Asunción de la Virgen y de San Bruno (the Sisters of Bethlehem and the Assumption of the Virgin and St. Bruno) settled in the Monastery. Their intention is to live isolated from the world and to worship the Holy Trinity with the Virgin day and night.
Since the founding of this religious order monasteries of monks have been established in France, Italy and Israel, and monasteries of nuns in Germany, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Canada, United States, France, Italy, Israel, Lithuania , Poland, Portugal, Switzerland and Mexico. Today they have about 500 members who dedicate themselves to God in a life of solitude, silence, prayer and contemplation.
The community of Hermanas de Belén de Sigena (Sigena Sisters of Bethlehem) currently comprises 50 people, including novices. They come from all regions of Spain and other countries. Most of their life is in a cell alone (hermits), where each sister prays, reads and works 20 hours a day (including rest and meal), in solitude and silence, all week. They leave only for the liturgical services (remaining 4 hours daily). On Sunday, they have a communal meal and a long spiritual walk which brings the community together.
The monastery can be visited with a tour guide, check schedule in the monastery.
Address: Afuera s/n. 22231 Villanueva de Sigena
Tel.: 974 57 81 58