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17 julio 2024

The Carthusian monastery of Las Fuentes, a baroque jewel in the Monegros region

In the Monegros, between the fields of Lanaja, Sariñena and other localities of the region, stands one of the most important jewels of the Aragonese Baroque. This is the Cartuja de Nuestra Señora de Las Fuentes, which occupies an area of no less than 60,000 square meters and whose rich heritage led the Government of Aragon to declare it an Asset of Cultural Interest in 2002. The paintings of Manuel Bayeu, the sculptures of Carlos Salas and the architectural ensemble of late Baroque style, influenced by Ventura Rodríguez, are its main credentials.

“It is one of the most important Baroque ensembles in Aragon, both for its architectural layout and the intervention of Salas, the sculptor, as well as for the great pictorial mass of Manuel Bayeu,” says José Manuel Pesqué, the coordinator of the restoration of a charterhouse that was begun in 1717 and that, thanks to the sponsorship of the Comenge brothers, who promoted the works, was finished 60 years later, in 1777.

Exterior view of the Carthusian monastery of Monegros. PHOTO: Marcos Díaz

The result is a formidable ensemble that accumulates more than 2,000 square meters of mural paintings by Fray Manuel Bayeu, brother of Francisco Bayeu, who in turn was the king’s chamber painter and brother-in-law of Francisco de Goya. Due to its size, it is considered one of the three most important pictorial ensembles of the Community, together with the Basilica of El Pilar and the Carthusian monastery of Aula Dei, in Peñaflor.

Detail of the vault of the Carthusian monastery of Nuestra Señora de Las Fuentes. PHOTO: Marcos Díaz

In the Monastery of Mongrino, Fray Manuel Bayeu represented episodes of the Virgin’s life in the vault, while he dedicated the paintings of the perimeter walls to the Passion of Christ. His work at the Charterhouse also includes a cycle of oil on canvas paintings on the life of Saint Bruno and the decoration of the cloister of the chapels, where he also painted self-portraits.

One of the most important pictorial ensembles in Aragon.

The beauty of the mural paintings, full of movement and expressiveness typical of the Baroque period, is one of the main attractions of the Carthusian monastery, which surprises the visitor as soon as he enters with its vault.

Charterhouse of Nuestra Señora de Las Fuentes. PHOTO: Marcos Díaz

About the author, Pesqué tells that he entered the order on December 6, 1760 as an aspiring don, “the lowest of the degrees of the ecclesiastical career”. Of his arrival, he points out that many of the aspirants already had a trade, as was the case of Bayeu, because the community “was interested not only in vocation, but also in being useful”.

“He was a Carthusian who was a bit of an anarchist because reaching the rank of brother usually took a period of a year and a half from the time he entered as an aspiring don; it took him 12 years,” he explains. But what did he do in the meantime? “Paint this Charterhouse, paint the one in Valldemosa (in Mallorca), the one in San Pedro Arbués, the cathedral of Jaca, a lot of easel painting…”, says the expert.

The donated tabernacle

Together with the pictorial richness of the ensemble is the sculptural one, which found in the tabernacle one of its main exponents. This classicist baroque piece, the work of Carlos Salas and with Pedro Gutiérrez as gilder, is no longer in the Charterhouse, as it was donated in the second half of the 19th century to the Basilica of El Pilar by Bernabé Romeo y Belloc, then owner of the space, in exchange for a mass to be celebrated for his soul every year.

Aisles of the cloister of the Carthusian monastery of Las Fuentes. PHOTO: Marcos Díaz
Aisles of the cloister of the Carthusian monastery of Las Fuentes. PHOTO: Marcos Díaz
Precisely, this fact shows the hardships that the Charterhouse has suffered throughout its history. Thus, during the War of Independence it had to be abandoned and, until its disentailment in 1835, it was uninhabited twice and was the object of pillaging and plundering that it suffered during the French invasion.

Abandonment and plundering

After some time, most of the properties were acquired by Francisco Romeo Martínez de Bengoa and it was in 1876 when Romeo y Belloc bought the Charterhouse. Romeo y Belloc wanted to turn the monastery into a spa, an idea that failed, so the monastery passed into the hands of Mariano Bastarás, who used it for agricultural purposes.

It also suffered during the civil war, as both the Republican militias and the National Army used the monastery, which resulted in great damage. Proof of this are the different inscriptions of one side or the other, which can be seen in several rooms of the complex.

Inscription of the Durruti Column, in the Carthusian monastery of Monegros. PHOTO: Marcos Díaz

Decades later, in 2002, the Government of Aragon declared the complex an Asset of Cultural Interest, while the Diputación de Huesca acquired the monastery after 13 years, in 2015. Since then, the Carthusian monastery has been undergoing restoration work that has included the replacement or replacement and restoration of the roofs and work on the porter’s lodge, which has been converted into a visitors’ center and now only needs to be furnished.

Restoration in progress

“The restoration of the church began with the atrium, firstly, and secondly, with the restoration of the paintings in the nave. Now, the tribune is about to be finished and we will do the restoration of seven scenes of the transept and chancel”, details Pesqué.

These works also include work on the cloister, which will cost 550,000 euros, while the work on the roof of the obedience building is under study, with an estimated cost of 400,000 euros.

One of the domes of the Charterhouse of Nuestra Señora de Las Fuentes, painted by Manuel Bayeu. PHOTO: Marcos Díaz

Now, the Carthusian monastery can be visited on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 11.00 to 14.00 hours, although it is possible to request a visit outside these hours. In addition, this monastery is part of the circuit that includes the other two Aragonese Carthusian monasteries, those of Aula Dei and Peñaflor.

“For a standardized guided tour of an hour and a half or two hours, we have a perfectly valid route. We will be incorporating spaces as we restore them, but we have to give up things, because this charterhouse is immense,” Pesqué concludes.

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