The virgin of the forest
Romanesque sculpture, probably from the 12th century, located on the left apse or apse of Saint Mary. It comes from the shrine of Santa Maria de Gausac, former property of the Monastery located in Collserola.
In the early 20th century, the original Romanesque sculpture of the Virgin of the Monastery was sold along with other antiques to fund the restoration works of the temple. In the 1940s, it was replaced by another Romanesque sculpture from the shrine of Santa Maria de Gausac or of the Forest, located in the mountain range of Collserola and which at that time was already deconsecrated.
Mary appears crowned and sitting on a low throne with her feet on a stool; she is holding a piece of fruit in her right hand (Mary as a new Eve) and protects the Child with her left hand, who is sitting on her lap, slightly to the left. When it was placed in the temple, it underwent a well-intentioned but excessive restoration.
Joan Amades tells of a legend according to which this sculpture was miraculously found in the forest by an ox, like many other virgins throughout Europe.
Altarpiece of all Saints
Currently located on the southern apse of the church, it is a Gothic altarpiece made by the workshop of Pere Serra around 1400. The dedication to All Saints is linked to the Benedictine order …
and their prayer for the diseased. The central table is dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosebush. The Gothic altarpiece of All Saints has been stylistically attributed to the workshop of Pere Serra. It dates back to the late 14th century and is an example of the Italian tradition within the international Gothic current. Formally it is made of three streets separated by four stiles on which some saints have been represented separately. The upper part includes three scenes within golden pointed panels with floral pinnacles, while the lower part features the figure of Christ scourged, already descended from the cross.
The central table, which occupies the space of three scenes, is dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosebush with the Christ Child on her lap. At her feet there is a tiny monk in a devout attitude, representing the donor. Above her, there is the image of Cavalry, with Saint John and the women saints.
On both sides, we find a panel with angels guided by a warrior Saint Michael. The sides are arranged in three superimposed scenes. From top to bottom, the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament, in which Moses, King David and Saint John the Baptist are clearly distinguished; beneath them is the triumphant Church, those believers in Christ who found death in proven sanctity, headed by Saint Peter as the first pope. On the lower level, we find the women, the virgins with crowns and the martyrs with palms. Opposite them is Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary. At the foot of the altarpiece, the predella, the characters represented are Mary and Saint John next to the Christ scourged; Saint Benedict, founder of the monastic order; his sister Scholastica; Saint Marguerite and Saint Catherine, and, on the edges, Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
On the upper part of the stiles there is a small coat of arms of the Oliba family, merchants from Barcelona with a tomb of their own in the Cloister of the cathedral. Probably the monk who paid for it was a member of this family.
Chapel of Merci
he chapel is built within the body of the bell tower. Originally dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, in the 16th century it was divided into two levels to house the organ in the upper level. In 1706 it was reformed to dedicate it to the Virgin of Mercy.
The installation of the organ involved building an intermediate vault in what had previously been a single space of great height. The new dedication of the lower chapel to the Virgin of Mercy led to planning a funerary decoration of sgraffiti in white on a black background, with twisted foliages amidst which there is the representation of the phoenix, the symbol of resurrection, pecking grapes, the symbol of the Eucharist.
In 1706 a new altarpiece was commissioned to the local sculptor Josep Sala Gener, who had learnt the craft from his stepfather Francesc Santacruz. The altarpiece is presided over by a set of sculptures formed by the figure of the Virgin, strictly dressed in black, with Christ, her dead son on her lap, who becomes an evocation of the Mother Church and the loyal (son of God) diseased. This has led experts to consider that it might have acted as funerary chapel of the Monastery. The sides feature pairs of Solomonic columns. Their rotation gives an ascensional movement that helps focus the gaze on the sculpture. Between the columns, an angel dressed as an ancient warrior holds a candle. Above the entablature there is a small sculpture of Saint John, almost by the vault.
Currently the chapel keeps the Blessed Sacrament. The pavement was made of tiles but because of its bad condition in 2000 it was reformed and replaced by a neutral paving of white marble. Opposite, there is the sepulchral slab of the Ametller family.
Chapel of Saint Bartholomew
This chapel, in which the craftsmanship of the altarpiece by Master Francesc Santacruz and the pictorial image of Saint Bartholomew by Master Miquel March stand out, is one of the most important baroque spaces in the Monastery: it features elements characteristic of this style …
such as its over-elaborate architecture, dominated by the Solomonic columns. There are several traditions concerning the places evangelised by this saint, but the most accepted is his preaching in Armenia, where he would have converted the sister of the king, who, as a punishment, ordered him to be skinned alive. This legend seems like the Christianisation of the classic myth of Apollo and the shepherd Marsyas and is, in fact, the episode portrayed by the central painting in the large altarpiece housed in the chapel. This piece began to be produced in 1672 and was entrusted to Master Francesc Santacruz, with the collaboration of a local carpenter, Josep Gener, whose daughter he married. Of baroque style, the altarpiece is made up of an over-elaborate architecture framing a single central street, where there is the aforementioned painting of the martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, the work of the Valencia-born artist Miquel March, who perhaps was inspired by the painting of the martyrdom of Saint Philip by José de Ribera.
Two blocks stand out in the lower base of the altarpiece on which we find two Solomonic columns on both sides, framing the central painting. On the sides there are two carved tables with figures of saints, which help emphasise the power of these columns and the upper entablature. On the upper section there is a single niche with a sculpture of Saint Hermenegild.
The lower part of the chapel’s wall is coated with a polychrome ceramic chair rail, of which the two tables with the Monastery’s coat of arms stand out, a tower crowned with the crosier and the abbot mitre, stamped by an imperial crown from which two lappets descend with the legend “Octaviani Caesaris Augusti Castrum”.
The conglomerate stone pillar on which a sculpture of the Virgin of Montserrat rests, the work of the maker of religious images Amat, comes from this emblematic mountain
Chapel of Saint Benedict
This chapel is in the centre of the fourth nave of the temple, separated from the two neighbouring chapels by narrow sacristies. An altar dedicated to Saint Benedict, the founder of the monastic order of Sant Cugat, was already documented in 1221. The chapel, profusely decorated, is one of the best examples of Catalan baroque style.
In 1775 Francesc Santacruz was already working on the ornamentation of the dome of the Chapel of Saint Benedict and he created the medallions that would be painted by Pasqual Savall and continued after his death by Josep Laiga. The gilding was entrusted to Pere Pau Vinyals, considered the best master of that period. The altarpiece strictly speaking was not commissioned until 1688 and it seems that it was paid for by the Erill family, owners of the Torre Negra.
The architectonic structure of this baroque altarpiece is made up of three streets, two floors upon the predella and the upper attic. The resulting panels contain six oil canvases, dedicated to the reformers of the Benedictine order (Saints William, Joan Gualbert, Silvestre, Romuald, Robert and Pere Celestí).
In the main space of the altarpiece there is a niche that houses a sculpture of Saint Benedict that is too small, given that the original disappeared in 1936.
The vertical separation elements are volumetric figures of angels bearing candles on the lower part and musicians on the upper part. Above their heads are the coats of arms of military orders that follow the Benedictine rule.
There is a false tradition according to which the altarpiece was paid for by King Felipe II, in 1585, and a historical reason would explain this confusion: the aim of linking the chapel with the monarchy, so that in the intrados of the entrance arcade there are the portraits of the monarchs of the House of Austria who reigned before 1700 (Charles I, John of Austria, Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV). On the reveals their two-headed eagles are also painted holding and protecting the oval coat of arms of the Monastery.
The war interrupted the work and in 1734 Pere Ruiz and the painter Joan Grau were commissioned to complete it.
The dynastic change meant that in the reign of Philip V two lions were added above the exterior cornice, the symbol of the House of Bourbon, in identical protective attitude towards the Monastery. The tympanum contains a fresco painting of the passing of Saint Benedict, underneath which there is a big coat of arms of the Monastery.
Legend of the Rooster weather vane
The Chapel of Saint Benedict preserves one of the most emblematic pieces of art in the Monastery. It is a medieval metal weather vane in the shape of a rooster. Originally it was located above the dome, but today it is held in the chapel to recall a well-known legend of the Monastery, according to which this rooster sang …
when Abbot Biure was assassinated on Christmas Eve 1350. In the Chapel of Saint Benedict there is an old object, of medieval origin: the dome’s weather vane. It is a volumetric piece that represents the figure of a rooster, made of iron and oxidised copper. After the secularisation and confiscation of ecclesiastical properties, with the church already acting as a parish, this weather vane was removed from its original place and replaced by another which is a simple cut out metal sheet.
The litigation between the heir Saltells and Abbot Biure is very complex but it is usually simplified by saying that Raimon de Saltells, an old widowed knight, took refuge in the Monastery of Sant Cugat in those times of plague and war, unaware whether his son Berenguer was alive or dead, so he left his inheritance to the Monastery, except a reserve of 10,000 sous in case his son returned. But Berenguer was alive and, after his return, claimed the full inheritance. The case was arbitrated by the Barcelona-born jurist Pere de Sa Rovira, who ruled that, according to the law, the monks had to pay him 48,730 sous within six months. When the deadline was over, Berenguer de Saltells had not yet received the money and, on Christmas Eve 1350, he and five companions entered the church and killed Abbot Biure. The legend goes that the rooster, horrified, sang and was heard from the monasteries of Sant Llorenç del Munt and of Montserrat. King Pere III granted the murderers one month to give themselves up to the veguer of Barcelona, which of course they did not do and used this time to flee to France and put themselves under the protection of the Count of Foix.
Chapel of Saint Scholastica
Sister of Saint Benedict of Nursia, from an early age she devoted herself to God and lived in a monastery close to her brother’s. She is considered the founder of the female branch of the Benedictine order.
The worship of Saint Scholastica is documented in the Monastery’s Costumari of 1221. Her chapel is the last in the fourth nave, close to the temple’s entrance. A part of the altarpiece was mutilated in 1938, given that the chapel was reconverted into a bar for the deputies of the penultimate parliament of the Republic.
Although the altarpiece is not documented because of its stylistic features it might be the work of Francenc Santacruz, like the other three. The smooth background of the central space, where the big painting of the titular saint is located, is framed by a powerful side architecture made up of two couples of Solomonic columns on both sides, separated by a narrow strip on which three images in relief are carved.
The chapel’s dome is decorated with simple paintings on a white background. In the vault’s drum and in the scallops there are some niches with painted images of different abbesses of the order, all of them wearing crowns that symbolise their virginity. On the side walls we find two scenes: one is the death of the saint and the other of the mystical convert women with her brother. In the outside tympanum of the chapel there is a scene of exaltation of the saint, similar to that of the neighbouring Chapel of Saint Benedict, of poor artistic quality. In the keystone of the entrance arcade there are two coats of arms: the Meca family dog and the boot of the Sabater family, which indicate that they are probably the patrons of the work. It should be noted that the Sabater family took refuge in the Monastery during the Spanish War of Succession. The chapel had housed the brotherhood of Corpus Christi or of Minerva, with a tomb of their own.
The chapel of Saint Scholastica houses a beautiful baptismal font from the parish of Sant Pere d’Octavià. It is a 16th century Renaissance sculptural piece, probably made in Girona.
With the outbreak of the First Carlist War, in 1833, the parish church of Sant Pere d’Octavià was transformed into barracks and religious worship moved to the Monastery, along with part of its liturgical objects, such as the baptismal font.
It is an element carved in Nummulitic stone from Girona, in the shape of a bowl, with a square base covered with leaves from which a shaft begins with the same vegetal ornamentation. The upper part is octagonal and its exterior features a series of small niches with the relief of a saint, separated by balusters.
Of course Saint Peter, patron of the parish, appears flanked by Saint Paul and Saint Sebastian, advocate against the plague. Other characters are Saint Roch, apparently protector against the epidemics of the plague; Saint Marguerite, holding a cup with the dragon that symbolises the triumph of good over evil; two characters wearing mitres in the act of blessing, probably Saint Benedict, founder of the order, and Saint Severus, supposed martyr in the castrum Octavianum, and a saint with a cup (of perfumes or ointments), who might be Mary Magdalene.
Altarpiece of Saint Michael
The northern wall of the church houses a Renaissance altarpiece dedicated to the archangel Saint Michael. The altarpiece comprises a predella, two floors and an attic, divided into three streets separated by austere pilasters. The central space of the first floor is wholly occupied by a niche that houses a golden baroque sculpture representing Saint Michael and that replaced the original Renaissance sculpture, which was probably bigger
The sculptures of Saint Anthony the Abbot and of Saint Joseph date back to the 1940s and are the work of Jaume Duran. In the attic we find a painting of Saint Michael defeating the rebellious angels, and above a tympanum with the symbolic figure of the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove. The oil paintings portray the life of Saint Placid and other Benedictine saints.
Altarpiece of the Rosary
This piece replaces the Romanesque elements that hitherto had presided the left apse or apse of Saint Mary. We know that the carpentry work began in 1583. It was more ambitious than that of Saint Michael and is divided into five streets, two floors and an attic. The dedication to the Virgin of the Rosary was popularised in the 16th century under the guidance of the Dominicans and substituted the old Catalan tradition of the Virgin of the Rosebush.
The paintings in the panels refer to the fifteen mysteries of the three parts of the rosary. In the attic there is the crucifixion, above the ascension, located in the centre of the second floor. In the tympanum we find the Holy Spirit.
Tomb of Abbot Odó
As in many other churches, within the temple there are different tombs, all of them with the common desire to remain close to the relics of the titular martyr.
The main and most monumental tomb in the church of the Monastery is that of Abbot Odó. Odó was elected abbot of the Monastery in 985, after the death of Abbot Joan in al-Mansur’s attack. Of aristocratic origin, cultivated and a good diplomat, he earned the precept of King Lothair I by which the properties of the Monastery were confirmed and he was granted immunity; this was the last of the Carolingian privileges granted in Catalonia. In 1002 he also received the papal bull of Silvestre II, by which the Monastery was directly linked to Rome and unlinked from the Bishop of Barcelona.
In 998 he was elected Bishop of Girona, a post he combined with that of abbot. From 1000 he promoted the architectural reform of the monastic site, with a new church, a wing of the Cloister and the bell tower. Meanwhile, he enlarged and rearranged its territorial dominions. He died as a result of the wounds received in the campaign against Cordova (1010). In the 15th century, the monks dedicated a monumental tomb to him on the northern wall of the temple. It features the recumbent statue of Odó, with his attributes as an abbot: mitre, crosier, gloves and chasuble. Crowned by a large Gothic gable, it is really the most outstanding tomb in the Monastery.
Tomb of Raimon de Saltells
On the northern wall of the church we find the tomb of the Saltells family, nobles from Cerdanyola who remain forever linked to the history and legend of the Monastery.
On the northern wall of the church of the Monastery, quite close to the tomb of Abbot Odó, we find another tomb, less monumental but equally important in the history of Sant Cugat: it is a tomb-ossuary of the noble Raimon II de Saltells and his wife, Jacma de Vall, grandparent of Berenguer de Saltells, the man who assassinated Abbot Biure on Christmas Eve 1350.
The piece, resting on corbels on the wall, is of Gothic style and features two coats of arms of this noble family from Cerdanyola, of whom, beyond the legend, we find no further trace after 1358.
Paintings on the life of Saint Benedict
In the last quarter of the 18th century a series of paintings on the life of Saint Benedict was produced, aimed at ornamenting the new chapter house. After the secularisation the paintings were stored in the attic of the Abbot’s Palace and deteriorated.
Restored at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Barcelona University in the 1980s, they returned in the early 21st century to the Monastery to occupy the space where they can currently be seen.
Originally located in the new chapter house of the Monastery in the late 18th century, the paintings were finally stored in the attic of the Abbot’s House after the confiscation of ecclesiastical properties in 1835, where they seriously deteriorated. From 1982, they were taken to the Faculty of Fine Arts and trainee students restored them. Once this task was completed, they returned to the Monastery and, lacking another space, in the early 21st century they were located at the feet of the southern nave of the church, arranged like an altarpiece.
The series of paintings, little studied, is based both on the historical events of the life of Saint Benedict and on other events of a legendary nature. Everything we know of his life comes from the biography written by Pope Saint Gregory (540-604), which is the main source for the iconographic programme.
The main painting is the so-called passing, or moment of his death, with the saint standing after receiving the Eucharist. Other scenes are the interview with King Totila, the drafting of the rule, the miracle of the poisoned cup that breaks by itself, and how his prayers make the demons flee from the pagan temples. At present, the artist is unknown.
Music has always been a key element in the monastic liturgical services and there has probably been an organ since ancient times. The current one is on the southern side of the transept, above the Chapel of Mercy. The instrument’s casing is a good example of Renaissance wood carving.
The machinery that makes the organ sound has undergone multiple repairs and modifications over the centuries. The last major intervention in the organ dates from 3 March 2000.
On 29 September 1499 the monks signed a contract with Master Ermenter Brocà from Barcelona to build a new organ; later, in 1523, Miquel Cerdanya continued working on it. Its location in the side nave enables the organist to control the presbytery and the choir through two strategically arranged mirrors, today replaced by a digital screen. Set at this point, the organ conceals the upper part of the former Chapel of Saint John, which was used to build a new intermediate floor for the bellows that provides air to the instrument.
When speaking of the organ it is necessary to differentiate between the casing strictly speaking and the machine. What has survived is mainly the former, while the latter has undergone multiple repairs and modifications over the centuries. The final one began in 2000 and is not complete.
The organ’s casing has an architectonic structure in wood on two floors and it seems that it is the work of the carver Joan Masiques (1526). The tribune’s banister, profusely ornamented with Renaissance-style reliefs that represent issues of the new humanism, stands out: burlesque busts, naked figures highlighting the anatomy and movement of the body, and completely vegetal figures that leave no empty space. The crowning of the organ, also architectonic, bears a heraldic shield featuring a lion rampant looking towards the left, impossible to attribute to any specific figure given that it can belong to diverse families. The canopies are now merely ornamental.
There are some half concealed remains of Romanesque paintings of the former Chapel of Saint John on the upper arcade, now within the organ’s box, and others covered by the tribune’s banister.