Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran in the Spanish province of Girona was founded by a Pere Rigall (Rigau) on the site of a former church of Santa Maria in the latter half of the 11th century as an Augustinian monastery. After two decades of construction, the church was consecrated in 1100, whereas the cloister and the campanile were completed some decades later. Even after Abbot Rigall’s death sometime in the first or second decade of the 12th century, the monastery continued to flourish, and served for a while as a shelter for pilgrims on the way to the Holy Land, due to the family connection of an abbot and a grand master of the Knights Templar.
Santa Maria Vilabertran was the site of a royal wedding in 1295 when King Jaime II married Blanca of Naples as his second wife.
The church has a square plan with a nave and two aisles and short transepts. The nave has a barrel vault supported by four arches springing from sturdy half round pilasters with simple capitals integrated into the smooth masonry walls of the nave, while the relatively narrow aisles are framed by half barrel vaults buttressed by half arches. A diaphragm arch with two tiny oculi above the apse roof demarcates the nave from the chancel. The view down the nave adequately describes the spatial organization, and also conveys the sense of dignity and repose of the space.
The apse with its pure geometry and human scale must have endeared, as well as inspired the faithful in the monastery for many centuries earlier, as it does enchant the visitors so profoundly today. Although the Romanesque churches in Catalonia are mostly free of Islamic architectural influences, when we look closely at the diaphragm arch springing from the capitals, we can see that the master mason had built the bottom of the arch with ever so slight inward curve.
The next photograph shows the nave from the north aisle with sturdy, yet elegant columns placed on cross-shaped bases, smooth plane of the nave wall, and the pure geometrically carved capitals for the nave arcades.
The north transept has a chapel, resplendent with a small rose window and lancet windows with stained glass on either side, probably constructed in early 15th century when the then abbot is said to have reinforced the north wall of the church that had been weakened by time and continuous attacks by the pirates.
The church continued its building work even after the consecration of the nave and the chancel, and the trapezoidal cloister was built sometime during the later decades of the 12th century. In contrast to the nave capitals which were carved with almost no ornamentation, the columns for the cloister are adorned with capitals with elegant floral motives.
The plaza in front of the Santa Maria lined with neatly trimmed shade trees is one of the important public spaces in Vilabertran. The monastery is now given a new life as a museum, and also as home to the annual “Schubertiade” music festival from late August through early September. The well-proportioned Lombardy style campanile, three tiers with faint cornice lines between the levels but otherwise without any ornamentation, was built between the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th century.
For more information about our guest writer, Jong-Soung Kimm, please see this link.