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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