MONASTERY OFFERS A VAST ARRAY OF ARCHITECTURAL WONDERS

The Royal Monastery of Sant Jeroni de Cotalba sits proudly on a small hill just outside of Gandia, in the district of Alfauir (Valencia). It is surrounded by nature, orange groves, walking trails and picnic spots. It is now a private estate that opens the main floor and the grounds to the public on weekends, but for over the past 600 years, it has been a very special place for Kings, Queens, Nobelmen and women and the Hieronymite Order.

The Hieronymite Order has its origin in Jàvea. In 1374 Pope Gregory XI authorized the foundation of a monastery in Jàvea to the Hieronymite order. The duke Alfonso of Aragon granted the grounds for this monastery but it was attacked by Berber pirates in 1387 and the monks feared to return there. For that reason in 1388 Alfonso of Aragon bought the territories of Cotalba from Muslims, which was safer and he donated it all to the Hieronymite monks of Jàvea.

The Monastery itself is a complex or compound with a vast array of architectural wonders, which represent Spain's long, creative and devotional past. In 1994, it was declared a Place of Cultural Interest because its original construction dates back to 1388 and it contains important Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical features.

* Report by Arts Historian and Educator , Karla Darocas, Hons. B.A. (SpainLifestyle.com)
* Copyright Karla Darocas 2018* (no part of this text or photos may be replicated)

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It has been on my radar for quit some time but we finally, my husband and myself, made a morning excursion and early, as I so not like people in my historical type photos. * big grin *



As we walked up to the Main Gate of the Monastery, we were met by multiple early morning reflections on white plaster. Looking down at us was Saint Jerome, the patron saint of this establishment and he was writing his famous Latin version of the Bible called the "Vulgata", which appeared at the end of the 4th century.

Also, sitting proud on the entrance head, was a stone coat-of-arms designed for the grandson of King James II and the benefactor of the monastery namely Alfonso of Aragon. You can see all of the tributes in this insignia including their bars of Aragon, French lilly flowers for his grandmother, Blanche of Anjou, the wild lion being the symbol for the residing monks of the Hieronymite order and also the eagle's talon or claw with a sword to represent the Marquis of Villena, who was actually Juan Pacheco, a Castilian nobleman of great power during the 15th c.  


Once through the main gate, the bell tower commands your attention. It was built in the 14th c. and is beside the church part of the Monastery. 


It has a rectangular shape and was built from stone in four parts with "ashlar" or raised stone bricks as bands around each party. The upper part has the battlements and below that are classic Gothic "ogival" arches. The bells are housed in this upper part.


The main facade of the building is austere and formal. It has three floors, small windows and  ironwork balconies added in the 18th Century. The main portal to the Monastery, which leads directly to the building, is a simply, stunted ogival arch, over which is the coat of arms of the founder in a "roundel", which is a round shape crest, and decorative chains dressing the frame of the portal.



The backbone and communications channel of any Monastery is its Cloister. Four buildings back onto Sant Jeroni de Cotalba's covered cloister of two levels that journey around the courtyard.

I was very excited to witness the lower part, which dates back the 14th c. We were not allowed into the upper walkway but read that this upper part was added later in stages from the 15th and 18th centuries. 

The lower cloister was a wonder to behold with its jazzed up ribbed vaults and ogival arches made from natural clay bricks and white lime mortar in the Mudéjar style, a term referring to the Muslims who continued to practise their religion and their customs in the territory that became part of the Christian dominions after the Reconquest. Stone is used for the bases of the arches and the round keystones, which have insignias.




A highlight in the south-east corner is a unique spiral staircase in Flamboyant Gothic or in Spanish Flamenco constructed towards the end of the 15th or at the beginning of the 16th Century, covered with plasterwork with plant decorations in high relief that leads to the upper part of the Cloister, but was closed, and also opens into the Chapterhouse, which is the now a chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Health and used by the private family who now owns the Monastery. 


However, the Chapterhouse in its day was an essential place in monastic life. This is where the monks held their daily meetings. The abbot sat in his high seat and everyone else had his own seat in order, from the oldest down to the newest.

I must note here that these monks and their abbot sure were very tiny people. If you look at their garments, the length and width, you see that the height dimensions were somewhere on either side of 152 cm and not much more!


High on the northern wall of the Chapterhouse is a Gothic tomb of the Prince John, who was the grandson of Alfonso the Old. This tomb was constructed by maestro Xàtiva Pere Andreu in 1380, before work was started to construct the monastery. This tomb is a magnificent example of a medieval sarcophagus and it is extremely small as well!


The Chapterhouse is now a chapel and has a neo-gothic altarpiece with a replica of the Virgen de la Salud or Virgin of Good Health, the original is in the neighbouring village of Rótova.


The room alongside the Chapterhouse is full of olive oil storage wells and 32 large jars for olives. In the 14th century, this room was actually the sanatorium, oratory and the refectory. The only part of the primitive refectory that is preserved is wall with the renowned grisaille by Friar Nicolás Borrás, which is a monochrome painting representation of the last supper.


The south wing of the monastery is taken up by the church. It has a rectangular floor plan with 8 chapels between its original buttresses.



During the 18th Century the church was transformed from the Gothic style to a Neo-classical design. The roof and pointed Gothic arches had to be demolished in order to increase their height and to cover the nave with a barrel vault and lunettes. These arches are supported by capitals bearing the coat of arms of the first Duke of Gandia, Alfonso I of Aragon, decorated with figurative, plant and pastoral motifs.


The upper choir has a rectangular floor plan and is covered by a stellar vault with lunettes, which were decorated with paintings and shell corners, veneration symbols to Mary, in the corners.

Sadly this church fell pray to the Ecclesiastical confiscations of Mendizábal often referred to simply as la Desamortización in Spanish, were a set of decrees that resulted in the expropriation and privatisation of monastic properties in Spain from 1835 to 1837. The pictorial works went to the Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia. The Monstrance went to the Collegiate Basilica of Gandia, the organ to the Pias Schools of the same city, the great bell went to Xeresa and the image of the Virgin of Good Health was taken to the church of Rotova. This church then became a warehouse. Now, it is used for musical concerts and other special events.

The 15th c kitchen with Moorish oven is a rectangular room supported by four cross arches, with four groin vaults in the corners. The earthenware dishes, woven wicker mats and wooden spoons look like the items we still use today.



On the other side of the kitchen is an 18thc. lounge with Renaissance vaults and period furniture. 




The western side of the Monastery hosts a 20th c. Romantic-style garden created by the Trénor family who aquired the monastery of Sant Jeroni de Cotalva in Alfahuir, among other things that had been expropriated as a result of the Spanish Desamortización. The family still own it to this day and the rooms that are not open to the public are private rooms for their personal use. 





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