Tuesday, August 17, 1999

Reial Monestir de Santa Maria de Poblet

Woke up with the Matins bells.

Got up an hour later, dressed in the dark and walked down to the monastery for Laudes. Walked back up for breakfast, bused back down for a tour, hung around and sketched until I had used up the sketchbook, then walked back up to the hotel.

Poblet is a "real" monastery. Here monks dress the part (in white, being Cistercians). There are a few men in civilian dress, but they're secular priests, who have come on retreat. The monks serve in multiple services each day, from matins, at 5:15am, through lauds, mass, and vespers, to compline, at 9:30, and if their voices are not perfect, well, then, God calls men to the monastic life for other reasons than for music. The church bells ring shortly before each service, to wake the monks or to bring them home from their chores, and so the country round can use the church as a rough clock.

At one point, this monastery was the preferred final resting place for the kings of Aragon. (Catalunya and Aragon were joined through a political marriage way back in the 12th century. Catalunya/Aragon didn't get linked to Castille until the marriage of the Catholic kings, Ferdinand and Isabella, in the 15th century.) The crypts in the church never contained whole bodies, however, but only bones. One of the towers of the monastery is a turris pudoris, a tower of corruption, where the body would be stored until the flesh decayed.

When the monasteries were nationalized, all of the bones were taken up and translated to a cathedral for safekeeping. They were restored when Poblet was rehabilitated, but had gotten jumbled in the meantime, and so each bone probably didn't end up back in the crypt from which it started.

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