The Benedictine monastery of Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil has its origin in the 10th century. It was first an independent monastery and after the improvements in the 16th century, it remains today as a priory dependent on the monastery of San Esteban de Ribas de Sil. At this time the cloister was improved and the paintings in the church were made. It was one of the most important monasteries of the Ribeira Sacra during the Middle Ages, as it is shown by the vestiges of the roads that are still kept. The monks spent their time cultivating chestnut tree and the vine. The confiscation meant the total abandonment of the place.
It keeps its Romanesque church of the end of the 12th century and beginning of the 13th. It has a Latin cross plan. The front is made up of three semicircular apses, being the central higher than the side apses. The facade is divided into two sections. In the upper, the beautiful openwork rosette stands out. The facade is flared.
The monastery has three simple archivolts decorated with chess motifs on the trim. The decoration of the capitals is mainly vegetal. The tympanum is flat. Inside, the nave is covered with a wooden roof gable which rests on a few pointed arches resting on corbels, which are decorated with geometric shapes and balls. In the central apse the monastery keeps Renaissance wall paintings, from the 16th century. We can see on them the Virgin and San Juan, accompanied by Santo Domingo, San Antonio and St. Thomas. In the upper section, there are Saint Lucia and Santa Barbara. The Romanesque altar is kept in one of the side chapels.
Little remains from the rooms where the monks used to live. In the cloister, only two wings with arches on a continuous base of great sobriety are kept. It was carried out during the improvements of the 16th century.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).