Monastery of Santa María de Huerta foundation was made by the king Alfonso VII of León and Castile, in fulfilment of a promise he made in the siege of Coria. For this project, the king brought in 1142, from the abbey of Berdoues in Gascony (France), a community of Cistercian monks, with their abbot Rodulfo. The monastery ransfer to the lands near the Jalón river in 1162. Alfonso VII of León and Castile laid the first stone of this new construction on March 20 of 1179. It is believed that the works were made under the direction of the master of the cathedral of Sigüenza. They advanced very quickly thanks to the royal protection and the abundant donations.
In 1215, Martín Muñoz, mayordomo mayor of Henry I, nephew of the abbot Martin of Hinojosa, paid for the works of the refectory. In the 16th century he obtained aid and benefits from Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Philip II of Spain. Other constructions were built and the monastic complex enlarged.
In 1833, according to the Ecclesiastical confiscations of Mendizábal, the monks were expelled and only the church remained as parish. Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, marquis of Cerralbo, made an exhaustive study of the entire monument, taking charge of making known the history and inventory of the works of art. Thanks to his work, this monastery could be saved from total ruin. In 1882 it was declared a national monument.
Since 1930, the monastery has been a community of monks of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance (Trappists).
One of its most outstanding features is the Gothic cloister, although it also contains other interesting elements such as a 12th-century kitchen or an extraordinary refectory, which is considered to be a masterpiece of Cistercian art. This 12th-century refectory only has one nave, although it is very illuminated and presents oval-shaped vaults on the ceiling. Its originality is due to the open staircase on the wall that passes through arches until it reaches the pulpit. A horizontal window connects the refectory with the kitchen, which is divided into three naves with a great fireplace in the middle.
Other aspects worth mentioning are the Plateresque cloister of Los Caballeros or the keep which shows a strong Mudejar inspiration. The upper level of the cloister is decorated in a Renaissance style, with low arches decorated with medallions, and the lower floor still maintains its original monumental arches. For a modest fee, you can spend the night in this monastery and visit the church the next day.
The church has three naves and inside the most impressive pieces are the major altarpiece and the tombs and urns of the Finojosa family. On the western façade of the building, you can see the main entrance formed by a pointed arch with six archivolts decorated with various types of geometric motifs. Above the door is a massive and impressive rosette formed by four concentric circumferences that are decorated with diamonds and frame twelve tri-lobed arches. There is a Romanesque parlour from the 12th century that was built with many French characteristics and is separated into two naves which also have oval-shaped domes, like the refectory.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).