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.References:
German crusaders known as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword began construction of the Cēsis castle (Wenden) near the hill fort in 1209. When the castle was enlarged and fortified, it served as the residence for the Order's Master from 1237 till 1561, with periodic interruptions. Its ruins are some of the most majestic castle ruins in the Baltic states. Once the most important castle of the Livonian Order, it was the official residence for the masters of the order.
In 1577, during the Livonian War, the garrison destroyed the castle to prevent it from falling into the control of Ivan the Terrible, who was decisively defeated in the Battle of Wenden (1578).
In 1598 it was incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Wenden Voivodship was created here. In 1620 Wenden was conquered by Sweden. It was rebuilt afterwards, but was destroyed again in 1703 during the Great Northern War by the Russian army and left in a ruined state. Already from the end of the 16th century, the premises of the Order's castle were adjusted to the requirements of the Cēsis Castle estate. When in 1777 the Cēsis Castle estate was obtained by Count Carl Sievers, he had his new residence house built on the site of the eastern block of the castle, joining its end wall with the fortification tower.
Since 1949, the Cēsis History Museum has been located in this New Castle of the Cēsis Castle estate. The front yard of the New Castle is enclosed by a granary and a stable-coach house, which now houses the Exhibition Hall of the Museum. Beside the granary there is the oldest brewery in Latvia, Cēsu alus darītava, which was built in 1878 during the later Count Sievers' time, but its origins date back to the period of the Livonian Order. Further on, the Cēsis Castle park is situated, which was laid out in 1812. The park has the romantic characteristic of that time, with its winding footpaths, exotic plants, and the waters of the pond reflecting the castle's ruins. Nowadays also one of the towers is open for tourists.