In the 14th century, after the fire that destroyed the first Franciscan convent in Ourense (located in the current Mayor’s Square), the order moved to this place on the side of Montealegre Hill, where they remained until the 19th century. In 1843 the old convent was transformed into infantry headquarters (until its closure in 1984), producing numerous reforms. The most significant of them was the move of the apse and front of the church to St Lazarus’ Park, where it was rebuilt. The orphaned cloister can now be visiedt.
St. Francis’ Cloister has outlived its eventful history retaining the beauty of its 63 arches virtually untouched, all of them decorated with motifs of plants, animals (real and fantastic) and humans. They are distributed around a seemingly square floor: neither side has the same number of arches, which are supported by double columns except the first four and last four in each row. On the side walls, various funeral selpulchres and columns of the chapter house are preserved. It is remarkable the access to the funeral chapel of the Sandoval family, under a festooned arch.
The capitals of the 63 arches of the cloister are a beautiful catalogue of mythological beings, animals and plant motifs carved in stone, made in Romanesque style with great Gothic influence.
The nave of the old church still remains attached to the cloister. In the south side we may find the Chapel of the Venerable Third Order, today transformed into an exhibition space where part of the funds of the Provincial Archaeological Museum are shown. The ensemble comes complete with St Francis’ Cemetery, located in the old convent’s former orchard, and the Auditorium, a spectacular contemporary building which is the city’s heart of the cultural activity. Rehabilitation works are being executed to move here the Provincial Library, what will turn St Francis into Ourense’s great historical and cultural complex.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).