The ‘Monestir de Pedralbes‘ or Pedralbes Monestary was founded in 1327 by Queen Elisenda de Montcada (with a little help from her husband James II of Aragon) for the Poor Clare Order whose nuns were still in residence up until the 1980s. The Poor Clare Order are the female counterpart to the more well-known Order of St. Francis.
Up until the 16th century, it was pretty much an all Catalan affair, but with the unification of the Spanish Crown the line of Abbesses became a succession of women from very important Castilian families including royalty, Sister Maria d’Aragó (1515-1519),was a natural daughter of King Ferdinand, and Sister Teresa de Cardona (1521 -1562), was the cousin of the king.
As religion became more ‘strict’ under the Catholic Kings, the monastery became increasingly isolated from the outside world and as a consequence of this the interior underwent substantial reforms. A third floor was added and the stained glass changed in the church, plus remodelling of the communal spaces such as the cloister, the refectory, the Room of the Angel and the dormitory.
The next centuries saw a steady decline for the monastery as the effects of political upheaval and conflict came to Catalonia. This reached its peak by the end of the 19th Century. The Peninsular War, a temporary take over by the Board of Health (reaction to the Yellow Fever epidemic), reprisals against religious institutions and a couple of hefty lightning strikes left the building in pretty poor shape. However as the century drew to a close Catalonia was experiencing a ‘Renaixença‘ (Renaissance). There was a cultural and political focus on the glory of Medievel Catalonia and one consequence was a restoration program for the monastery under the stewardship of architect Joan Matorell and funded by donations, most notably the industrialist Eusebi Güell.
In the early part of the 20th century restoration continued and in 1931 the Government of the 2nd Republic declared the site a ‘National and Historic Monument’ but with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War the building was requisitioned by the Catalan and Spanish governments to house important works of art and in 1938 it was repurposed the headquarters of the General Archives of Catalonia.
It was not until 1946 that the exiled religious order returned and in 1949 part of the monastery was finally opened to the public. Its connection with art continued and it became part of the History Museum of the City of Barcelona. In 1993 the dormitory and the Queen’s Room became home to a small part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, which was transferred to the National Art Museum of Catalonia in 2004.
A small community of eleven Poor Clare nuns continues to live in the new convent adjoining the monastery.
As normal the monastery is closed on Mondays, but Tuesday to Friday it is open between 10.00 – 14.00 (winter) 10.00 – 17.00 (summer) and at the weekends 10.00 – 17.00 (winter) 10.00 – 19.00 (summer). Sundays after 3pm are free. It is only 5€ to enter with a reduction for the usual suspects. Children under 16 are free.
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