Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas

Burgos, Spain

The Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas is a monastery of Cistercian nuns located approximately 1.5 km west of the city of Burgos. Historically, the monastery has been the site of many weddings of royal families, both foreign and Spanish, including that of Edward I of England to Eleanor of Castile in 1254, for example.

In 1187, Pope Clement III issued a papal bull authorising the founding of a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In June of the same year, Alfonso VIII of Castile, at the behest of his wife, Eleanor of England, granted the foundational charter stipulating that the monastery was to be governed by the Cistercian Order. Until the 16th century, it enjoyed many royal privileges granted to it by the king, including exemption from taxes, the lordship of many villages and territories (governed by the monastery's abbess), and the possession of many of the royal families' valued personal items, most of them religious. It is even claimed that, until the Council of Trent, the abbess was able to hear confession and give absolution, like a priest.

Alfonso VIII, who was himself to be buried at Las Huelgas, along with his wife, Eleanor, created the affiliated Royal Hospital, with all its dependencies, subject to the Abbess. The hospital was founded to feed and care for the poor pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago.

A community of lay brothers developed to help the nuns in their care of the hospital's patients, who became known as the Brothers Hospitallers of Burgos. There were never more than a dozen of them, but they formed an independent religious Order in 1474. The Brothers survived as an Order until 1587, when their Order was suppressed and they were again placed under the authority of the abbess.

Currently, the monastic community is part of the Spanish Congregation of St. Bernard, a reform movement of Cistercian nuns, which arose during the 16th and 17th centuries. The nuns support themselves through the decoration of porcelain items, making rosaries and providing laundry services for local hotels.

The monastery is open to the public. Visits are administered not by the monastic community, but by the Spanish heritage organisation Patrimonio Nacional, which maintains the property as a Spanish royal site.



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Founded: 1187
Category: Religious sites in Spain

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User Reviews

Little ES (42 days ago)
I really enjoyed the visit and well worth the 8 euro. The guided tour is in Spanish but thanks to google live audio translate, I was able to understand (kudos to the lady guide who spoke louder when she realised I was using google translate). The place is beautiful and serene. The history and knowledge of the people who lived, built and created the place is amazing. Must visit.
Angela Torres (10 months ago)
Amazing, you can come walking 10’ from the Cathedral.
Simon Cooper (12 months ago)
The place to visit. A short pleasant walk from the centre. The interiors are fascinating. Especially the examples of mudejar architecture. You can't take photos of the interiors but if all you want to do is take pictures of a friend in front of of some outstanding art that is no great loss.
Volha Friedrich (14 months ago)
An absolutely spectacular place, a must when you are in Burgos. Visits are only possible with a guided tour. We had one in Spanish, not sure if there are any in English. To see all the treasures inside was unique. Inside, there are also explanations in English. We arrived minutes a tour has started, and they were so nice to let us in ans join it. Mind the opening times! It is a stunning building, inside and outside.
Malcolm Hollifield (15 months ago)
The Monastery, which still houses some enclosed nuns, is located close to the University area of Burgos. As well as its intrinsic architectural interest, the monastery houses the graves of Alfonso VIII of Castile and his wife Leonor Plantagenet, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, sister to Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland. Alfonso led a coalition of Christian kingdoms to victory over the Moors at the battle of Navas de Tolosa in 1212. The battle is seen as a turning point in the Reconquista, the 700 year holy war to retake the Iberian peninsula from the hands of the Moors. Given that the end of the Reconquista only occurred in 1492 with the capture of Granada, the significance of the battle in 1212 might be overstated. Be that as it may, in the monastery museum at the end of the visit you can see the Moorish standard (Pendón) captured at the battle. In addition to it there are some wonderfully preserved items of material and clothing from over 800 years ago. I found them quite moving. We had a guided visit in Spanish which was enthralling, full of historical detail as well as a clear explanation of the architectural features of the monastery. The architecture of the buildings is significant. Friezes and other features made by Moorish artisans have been incorporated into the structure which contains Gothic and Mudéjar features. It is a gem of a place to visit, but prepare well for it by familiarising yourself with a bit of Spanish history as well as some understanding of the architectural terms.
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