Saturday, October 31, 2009

Monasterio de San Salvador

Today was saved by a short excursion off the Camino to visit the Monasterio de San Salvador at Vilar das Donas, a hamlet a mile and a half north. The Camino itself lost its mojo rather badly. Ancient paths through canopied forests turned into drab trails along side new highways, with villages that were no better.
But the monastery was everything even the most medieval-mad romantic peregrino could ask for. Dating to the 10th Century, when it probably began as a “family monastery” belonging to a wealth Galician, who gave it to the Order of Santiago in 1184, the present structure was built in the 13th Century. Its post-Romanesque architecture is impressive enough, and other grace notes abound, such as large antique wrought-iron hinges on the doors. The monastery is best known for its burial effigies of early knights, however, and its 15th century frescoes, which are astonishingly well preserved.
I’d visited the monastery on my prior Camino trip, but found it closed. The outside is interesting, but a barred set of doors is always disappointing, however great the wrought-iron hinges and Romanesque doorway. Today the monastery was observing its posted opening hours, however, and I was able to peer at its frescoes, sculptures and architecture to my heart’s content and still leave a half-hour before its two o’clock lunchtime closing (nothing in northern Spain stays open all day). That allowed me, on my way back to the Camino, to tell a German couple who, like me, had walked up from the Camino that the monastery was open and would be for almost another half hour. They were so surprised and delighted that I thought they would literally dance up the hill over the brow of which the monastery looked out at the next valley.