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:
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).