San Juan de la Peña Monastery

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San Juan de la Peña (Spain)
San Juan de la Peña
San Juan de la Peña
San Juan de la Peña
San Juan de la Peña
Floor plans of the two levels of the monastery
a) Upper floor
1. Bakery (today an exhibition room)
2. Sepulchral chapel of the kings
3. Courtyard with aristocratic graves
4. Museum
5. Romanesque upper church
6. Mozarabic gate
7. Gothic St. Victorián chapel
8. Romanesque cloister
9th Baroque Saint Voto Chapel
b) Basement
10. Pre-Romanesque church
11. “Council Hall” (dormitory)

The Royal Monastery of San Juan de la Peña ( San Chuan d'a Peña ) is a former Benedictine monastery in Aragon ( Spain ) and was the most important monastery in the country in the late Middle Ages . San Juan de la Peña has an excellent Romanesque cloister and the monastery also houses a tomb for the kings of Aragon .

Geographical location

The medieval monastery is located southwest of the city of Jaca , in a narrow gorge, under a protruding mountain overhang of the outer Pyrenees , the Sierra San Juan de la Peña, which was declared a protected landscape area in 1920 . The mountain overhang opens roughly to the north, so that the system hardly receives any direct sunlight. This location under a rock overhang is unique. The surrounding rock is a very soft conglomerate that favored the washing out of caves and the formation of overhangs, but in which it was also very easy to dig caves.


Title page of the first printed history of the monastery - Juan Briz Martinez: Historia de la Fundacion, y antiguedades de San Juan de la Peña, 1620

Visigoths fled to this mountainous, inaccessible area when the Visigoth Empire collapsed during the Muslim conquest of Spain from 711 onwards. They built a fortress here, but the Arabs destroyed it again in 734. In the following years, several fled here and lived in a loose community that existed until the beginning of the 10th century. García Íñiguez , King of Pamplona, ​​and Galindo I. Aznárez , Count of Aragón, were great patrons of the hermitage in the 9th century.

In 920 the area was conquered by Galindo Aznárez II , who had a small monastery built on this site, which was dedicated to a saint Julian and a saint Basilisa. The Mozarabic lower church has been preserved from this period . At the beginning of the 11th century, Íñigo von Oña , who was later canonized, spent some time here as a monk. King Sancho I then founded the monastery consecrated to John the Baptist . Construction began in 1026. In 1028, the Benedictine rule was introduced for the monastery . On March 22, 1071, the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña was the first place in Spain where the Roman rite was introduced. It replaced the Visigothic rite . No later than 1071 and that was a rule of Cluny introduced. The mighty and strengthened abbey found itself in a violent dispute with the Bishop of Jaca at the end of the 11th and beginning of the 12th centuries . In the process - common in those days - numerous documents were forged. Because of this and the loss of documents at a later date, it is difficult to make precise statements about the early history of the monastery.

San Juan de la Peña was then a center of science and culture in Aragon. The scriptorium of the monastery was particularly important . During this time, among other things, a 194 sheet copy of the Bible on parchment , the oldest surviving Bible manuscript from Aragon, was created here.

King García Sánchez I of Navarre granted the monks the right to jurisdiction, and his successors to Sancho Garcés III. further promoted the monastery. A large part of the buildings that still exist today were built under his rule. The cloister was added in the 12th century.

At the end of the 11th century, under the reign of Sancho I , the monastery attained its greatest importance and also became the burial place of the kings of Aragon.

Center for the History of the Kingdom of Aragon

Two fires, in 1494 and on February 24, 1675, caused great damage, the latter lasting three days. Because of the unfavorable location of the old monastery, after the second fire it was no longer built on the historical site, but about 100 m higher, on the plateau of San Indalecio above the overhang , which was climatically more favorable and also offered a lot more space. The structures of the new monastery were again badly damaged in the Spanish War of Independence in 1809 when French troops set them on fire. The monks then began to restore the facility. However, on August 16, 1835 - like all other monasteries in Spain - the monastery was secularized by the state . The facility fell into disrepair due to insufficient building maintenance and unsuitable use and was only partially restored at the end of the 19th century.

From 1999 to 2007 it was completely renovated: a luxury hotel, a center on the history of the Kingdom of Aragon and one on the history of the monastery were built within the old walls.

Medieval plant

Cave church

Mozarabic Lower Church The three apses of the upper church
Mozarabic Lower Church
The three apses of the upper church

The church of the monastery is two-story, the two levels are not directly connected. Each of the levels forms its own church space.

The lower church is the oldest surviving part of the monastery building. The Mozarabic lower church was built by 920 or shortly thereafter. It has two aisles with two apses . Remnants of Romanesque painting from the 12th century have been preserved there. The painting in the left apse shows the martyrdom of Saints Cosmas and Damian . In front of the lower church is the dormitory of the monks, the so-called "Council Hall". He joined in the 11th century.

The upper church dates from the second half of the 11th century when the monastery was expanded. It was consecrated to John the Baptist on December 4, 1094 . It has a single nave and closes with three apses, some of which are cut into the mountain. The apses were only added in a second construction phase, which followed the consecration in 1094. The ceiling of the church is partly formed from the rock. The church is only lit by windows on the west side. The exit to the cloister is through a gate in Mozarabic style. She is said here of the lower church translocated to have been, but perhaps it is also the only remnant of a upper church from the time before here today upper church was built. The gate bears an inscription in Latin (added later) .


Cloister of San Juan de la Peña under overhanging rock Arcades of the cloister to the valley
Cloister of San Juan de la Peña under overhanging rock
Arcades of the cloister to the valley

Structural system

The cloister from the 12th century lies entirely under the rock overhang. As a result, it was never covered. Above the arched position, round arched arcades on twin columns , the building ended. The rock overhang provided weather protection.

There are two chapels in the area of ​​the cloister:

  • The St. Victorian Chapel, which was "squeezed" under the mountain overhang at the beginning of the 15th century, served as the abbots' burial chapel and which attracts attention with its richly decorated flamboyant - late Gothic portal.
  • The Saint Voto Chapel, a baroque chapel that was carved into the mountain in the 17th century.

The capitals

Capital of the cloister: the angel appears to Joseph in a dream Capital of the cloister: last supper
Capital of the cloister: the angel appears to Joseph in a dream
Capital of the cloister: last supper
Capital of the cloister: Cain kills Abel Jesus' entry into Jerusalem
Capital of the cloister: Cain kills Abel

The capitals of the cloister are outstanding works of art from the Romanesque period. However, the cloister has been restored so often that the original sequence of capitals is unknown today. Different groups can be identified:

  • The oldest date from the end of the 11th century. The themes here are fantastic animals, geometric and vegetable motifs.
  • A second group of 12 capitals was created in the last third of the 12th century by the "Master of San Juan de la Peña" (also: Master of Agüero). He only created capitals for two wings of the cloister. They show pictorial representations, scenes from the Bible, and presumably replace older capitals. The iconographic program of the 26 preserved capitals seems to focus on salvation through faith and select the most important episodes for it. The capitals are carved as bas-reliefs , almost all of which are dominated by a horror vacui . The gestures are theatrical, eyes and mouth emphasized. As for the forms, they are subject to geometrical schemes.

The capitals with images show the following motifs:

  1. Cain and Abel
  2. Adam and Eve are driven out of paradise
  3. Adam and Eve at work after being driven out of Paradise
  4. Dream of Joseph before fleeing into Egypt
  5. King Herod's castle
  6. The Magi follow the star of Bethlehem
  7. Fishing miracles
  8. Wedding at Cana
  9. Jesus and the adulteress
  10. Awakening of Lazarus
  11. Jesus' entry into Jerusalem
  12. The last supper

Royal tomb

Upper hall of the royal crypt Model of the royal crypt with the sarcophagi carved into the stone
Upper hall of the royal crypt
Model of the royal crypt with the sarcophagi carved into the stone

The royal tomb (" Panthéon ") of San Juan de la Peña is also a two-storey complex. Early Aragonese counts, kings of Aragon, and kings of Navarre who ruled Aragon were buried there over a period of five centuries. Among other things, the first three kings of the Ramirez dynasty of Aragon, Ramiro I , Sancho Ramírez and Peter I lie here together with their wives.

The basement in which the burials took place was archaeologically excavated and is now presented to visitors in this excavated state. The corpses of the kings lay in stone sarcophagi in a rock chamber. The outer wall of the crypt is adorned towards the inner courtyard by a frieze with double arches. In the arches there are individually designed "gravestones", which only show symbols and ornaments, no lettering, no names.

The upper floor of the crypt, a memorial room, was built into the former sacristy of the upper church, which dates from the 11th century. The current, baroque design of the upper floor was in 1770 under King Karl III. arranged by Spain. On the left there are four stucco reliefs with scenes from the history of Aragon. The model for the design was the burial place in the Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial .

Next to the lower level of the crypt - accessible from the courtyard - there is a room that is used as a museum. Further exhibition rooms are located on the opposite side of the courtyard.

Protection status

The medieval monastery was declared a national monument on July 13, 1889 . In 1920 the complex was declared by King Alfonso XIII. classified as a national monument. On February 2, 2004, the government of Aragon declared the monastery a cultural asset ( Bien de Interés Cultural ) and also ordered the protection of the environment for the cultural monument .

Baroque complex

The baroque complex on the plateau

The new monastery was built on the high plateau above the old monastery in baroque style and mainly made of brick , because there was little suitable natural stone in the area and after the major fire, great importance was attached to fire protection. The monastery was completed in 1714, richly furnished and laid out with many outbuildings, of which almost nothing is left today. Due to the Spanish War of Independence and the secularization of the monasteries at the beginning of the 19th century, there is not much left of it today. The baroque monastery complex was restored at the end of the 19th century under the Aragonese architect Ricardo Magdalena (1849–1910) and declared a protected monument on August 9, 1923.


The monastery archive was damaged in the fire in 1675. Most of the documents that have been preserved are now in the National Historical Archives in Madrid , there in the spiritual department. The stock is divided into three large groups:

  • Older documents, between 507 and 1064, collected in the Cartulario de San Juan de la Peña .
  • Documents from the period from 1064 to 1194.
  • Documents created between 1195 and the end of the 15th century.


Founding legend of the monastery

Legend has it that a young nobleman, Voto (in some versions "Oto"), hunted in this place and came across a deer. He followed the prey and fell into the abyss when he reached Mount Pano. But his horse landed gently and safely at the foot of the ravine and the hunter was unharmed. According to another version, John the Baptist is said to have appeared to him warning him and thus saved him from falling into the depths. In any case, Voto discovered a small cave at the foot of the mountain wall, in which he discovered a hermitage dedicated to St. John the Baptist. There he found the body of the hermit Juan de Atarés . Impressed by the miraculous rescue and the discovery, he went to Saragossa , where he sold his property together with his brother Felix. Both moved into the cave as hermits. The relics of Voto and Felix are venerated in the Cathedral of Jaca .

Founding legend of the Kingdom of Aragon

Legend has it that the founding of the Kingdom of Aragon is moved to the monastery cave of San Juan de la Peña, where the Christian warriors, together with Voto and Félix, are said to have decided on shout to appoint Garcí Ximénez as their leader, who will take them into the battle for led the land of Jaca and Aínsa.

Grail legend

The Grail (replica of Santo Cáliz in San Juan de la Peña)

A legend tells that the Holy Grail , mentioned in a document from 1071, was kept in San Juan de la Peña . He was brought to Zaragoza in 1399. Today it is identified with the Santo Cáliz on display in the Cathedral of Valencia .

Worth knowing


  • Dietrich Höllhuber, Werner Schäfke : The Spanish Way of St. James. History and art on the way to Santiago de Compostela. DuMont, [Cologne] 1999, ISBN 3-7701-4862-2 .
  • Juan Briz Martinez: Historia de la Fundacion, y antiguedades de San Juan de la Peña, y de los Reyes de Sobrarve, Aragon, y Navarra, que dieron principio a su Real casa, y procuraron sus acrecentamientos, hasta, que se uniô el Principado de Cataluña, con el Reyno de Aragon. 5 volumes. Ivan de Lanaja y Quartanet, Saragossa 1620 ( scan in Google book search).
  • José María Foixench Naval: Monastère Royal de San Juan de la Peña. Editorial Kapitel, o. O., [before 2019], ISBN 978-84-937005-3-9 .
  • NN: Real Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña. [Guide booklet: Spanish, French, English, German]. Editiones Sicilia, o. O., 2010, ISBN 978-84-937005-1-5 .
  • Pedro de Palol, Max Hirmer: Spain. Art of the early Middle Ages from the Visigoth Empire to the end of the Romanesque period. Hirmer, Munich 1965.
  • Werner Schäfke : Northwest Spain. Landscape, history and art on the way to Santiago de Compostela. DuMont, Cologne 1987, ISBN 3-7701-1589-9 .
  • Pierre Tisné et al: Spain. Pictorial Atlas of Spanish Art. DuMont Schauberg, Cologne 1968, ISBN 3-7701-4461-9 .

Web links

Commons : Real Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. According to Schäfke: Nordwest-Spanien, p. 39, and following this Höllhuber: Der spanische Jakobsweg, p. 63: from the 11th century.
  2. The name is based on the tradition that a council was held here under the government of Ramiro I (NN: Real Monasterio, p. 10).
  3. Tisné: Spain, p. 410, incorrectly states 1094 as the year construction began on the upper church.
  4. Their translation reads: "This gate becomes that of heaven for every believer who passes through, if he strives to associate the observance of the commandments of God with faith" (Schäfke: Nordwest-Spanien, p. 39).
  5. Joh 21,1-14  EU .
  6. According to NN: Real Monasterio, p. 37, and, Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 6, the landscape around the monastery was (also) designated as a landscape protection area - the third in all of Spain.

Individual evidence

  1. a b Palol: Spain, p. 62.
  2. Höllhuber: The Spanish Way of St. James, p. 63.
  3. a b c d e NN: Real Monasterio, p. 6.
  4. Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 7.
  5. ^ So: Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 12; According to Schäfke: Nordwest-Spanien, p. 39, worship in Catalonia has been celebrated according to the Roman rite for a long time.
  6. Höllhuber: The Spanish Way of St. James, p. 63; Tisné: Spain, p. 410, gives the year 1023, Palol: Spain, p. 62, the year 1025.
  7. a b c d e Schäfke: Northwest Spain, p. 39.
  8. Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 10.
  9. ^ Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 10; Spanish National Library : Latin 2 (A. 2) (Roger Gryson: Old Latin manuscripts (based on a manuscript by Hermann Josef Frede ). Volume 1: Mss 1–275). Herder, Freiburg 1999, p. 201.
  10. NN: Real Monasterio, p. 37; Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 14.
  11. Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 34.
  12. NN: Real Monasterio, p. 37.
  13. Naval: Monastère Royal, pp. 34–46.
  14. ^ NN: Real Monasterio, p. 8.
  15. ^ NN: Real Monasterio, p. 9.
  16. NN: Real Monasterio, p. 10.
  17. ^ NN: Real Monasterio, p. 12; Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 24; Höllhuber: The Spanish Way of St. James, p. 63.
  18. ^ NN: Real Monasterio, p. 22.
  19. ^ Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 24; NN: Real Monasterio, p. 25.
  20. NN: Real Monasterio, p. 21; Höllhuber: The Spanish Way of St. James, p. 64.
  21. ^ NN: Real Monasterio, p. 23.
  22. a b Höllhuber: The Spanish Way of St. James, p. 64.
  23. Cayetano Enríquez de Salamanca: Rutas del románico en la provincia de Huesca. Las Rozas, Madrid 1987, ISBN 84-398-9582-8 , p. 42.
  24. See also: Kingsley Porter: Romanesque Sculpture of the Pilgrimage Roads. 2nd volume. Hacker Arts Books, New York, Reprint 1969, panels 535-544; Palol: Spain, plates 150–153.
  25. ^ NN: Real Monasterio, p. 28.
  26. NN: Real Monasterio, p. 29.
  27. NN: Real Monasterio, p. 28 f.
  28. ^ NN: Real Monasterio, p. 30.
  29. ^ NN: Real Monasterio, p. 31.
  30. NN: Real Monasterio, p. 30 f.
  31. a b NN: Real Monasterio, p. 32.
  32. a b NN: Real Monasterio, p. 32 f.
  33. a b NN: Real Monasterio, p. 34.
  34. Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 23.
  35. NN: Real Monasterio, p. 19.
  36. Tisné: Spain, S. 410th
  37. ^ Schäfke: Northwest Spain, p. 38.
  38. ^ Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 7; Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 30 f.
  39. ^ History of the Chalice of Valencia in Spain. In:, accessed on May 2, 2019.
  40. ^ NN: Real Monasterio, p. 13; Naval: Monastère Royal, p. 20.
  41. ^ NN: Real Monasterio, p. 39.
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Navigation bar for the Way of St. James "Branch route to the Camino Aragonés "

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Coordinates: 42 ° 30 ′ 28.8 "  N , 0 ° 39 ′ 59.4"  W.