Notable in the monastic site is the Romanesque Cloister, a symbolic and functional space surrounded by a series of rooms for the daily life of the monks and that enabled community life.
On the western side of the Cloister, to the east of Om Square, is the Small Cloister, a late 16th century Renaissance building, the work of the master builder Reguer.
The Renaissance porch was conceived as a background for the entrance to the Monastery.
It has six round arches on Tuscan columns made of Montjuïc stone and still has its original coffered ceiling. It is where the Monastery’s porter’s lodge and hostel were located in the 10th century. After the confiscation of ecclesiastical properties, in 1855 the Small Cloister was bricked up and turned into a school for girls until 1932 and is now an area where visitors can enjoy cultural events and temporary art or history exhibitions. It still leads to the Cloister, as it did centuries ago.
Early Christian Church
The Cloister courtyard still preserves the foundations of the former early Christian basilica, built in the 5th century to worship the relics of Cugat the martyr, who died in the year 304 …
during the persecutions of Christians by Emperor Diocletian. Although the martyrdom of Cugat took place in the city of Barcelona, the legend puts his burial where we now find the Monastery that bears his name. It is likely that a rich Christian took the saint’s body to this enclave, which must have been his property, to give the martyr a dignified tomb. In the 5th century a rectangular funerary chamber with an annex of two tombs was added, where it is believed he was worshipped. In the late 6th century, in the time of the Visigoths, an apse was added to the former site, indicating its liturgical use. The Benedictine monastery dedicated to him was built around this church in the 9th century. After the year 1000, Abbot Odó ordered a bigger monastic temple to be built in the location of the current one. The early Christian church lost its purpose and was demolished to enlarge its courtyard and build the new Romanesque Cloister. Today, on 25 July, the parish celebrates the saint’s day in the remains of this old building.
Very near this church entrance, on the eastern wall of the Cloister and between the façade and the chapter house and the body perpendicular to today’s church, there are remains of an old wall from the 10th century with a pointed entrance from the same period, later covered with well-squared ashlars.
Its fine execution and location suggest that this is perhaps the gateway to a faded 10th century chapter house, and has also been interpreted as the possible book armarium. Abbot Ponç Burguet died in 1306 and had chosen this place for his sculptural tomb, a clear sign that the entrance no longer had any use at that time. This Abbot’s tomb can still be seen today, although the sculpture has lost its head.
Gothic Chapter House
Every morning, the monks met in the chapter house and read a chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict. This is where the name comes from. The room is also the meeting place where they discussed questions of economics and good governance, confessed their minor infractions and monastic posts were allocated.
So it is one of the most important places for the organisation of the monks’ life. The chapter house is the monks’ meeting place, where they met every day after early morning prayer. Here they were told about the saints of the day and other matters on the calendar. A chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict was also read, about which the Abbot would deliver a sermon; the minor infractions were publically confessed; the accounts of the different administrations were reported annually, the posts were allocated, and any matter that affected the community discussed.
It is believed that this room was built around the same time as the Cloister, and its architectural result is a transition between Romanesque style, which we see clearly on the entrance, and Gothic style, which we find in the two windows flanking it.
The room was initially covered by a rib vault. Moreover, the presence of the Roman wall just below caused structural problems and big cracks appeared. This is why, in the late 15th century a chapel was added dedicated to Saint Benedict in the east, as a buttress. The solution was not very effective and, in the 18th century, it was replaced by a new chapter house built in the northern wing of the Cloister. At the same time, Abbot Gayolà turned the old chapter house into a pantheon of monks. After the confiscation of ecclesiastical properties, the tombs were desecrated and demolished by liberal troops. The room was later added to the temple, now with parish functions, as the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, a use maintained until 1942, when it was recovered as a monument.
The creation of houses for each monastic administration or post meant that those holding these positions went to live there. Renaissance humanism also meant that individual cells were built for young monks, which involved building a floor over the Romanesque galleries of the Cloister.
In the late 14th century the new abbots of the Monastery were appointed by the pope and from 1475 they were commendators, cardinals living in Rome and rewarded with the abbey’s income. They were responsible for bringing the new humanistic ideas and Renaissance artistic trends from Italy to the Monastery. One of the consequences of the humanistic movement was the development of a feeling of individuality and privacy of the person, a conception that put an end to one of the old customs of the Monastery: communal dormitories. From that moment it was considered necessary for each monk, regardless of his position, to have a private cell. This brought about a significant reform of the monastic site that involved the construction of an upper Cloister to provide access to the new rooms.
The model for the work was the new Cloister of Santa Caterina in Barcelona and was commissioned to the master builder Cristòfol Reguer. The sobriety of the Tuscan style chosen meant that the Renaissance upper cloister does not clash aesthetically with the Romanesque part. However, to make the galleries more spacious, its arcades bear the weight unequally on the pairs of Romanesque columns, which causes serious architectural problems.
At the time of the confiscation of ecclesiastical properties (1835), the Cloister was in a very bad state. At the end of the 19th century the complete demolition of the upper galleries was even suggested to save the lower Romanesque galleries. But, fortunately, the reforms and restorations carried out in the 20th century stabilised this architectural ensemble, where today we can enjoy a permanent exhibition on the Benedictine monkhood, the history of Saint Cugat and other contents of interest.
Baroque Chapter House
In the second half of the 18th century the custom of communal meals was lost and, given the poor state of the Gothic chapter house, a new one was built where the old kitchen and part of the refectory had been. Of its decoration, only a few mouldings and paintings on the life of Saint Benedict remain, currently on display in the church.
The new chapter house was built in the northern gallery of the Cloister, using the space of the old kitchen and part of the refectory, now no longer used. The room originally consisted of two different spaces: the room itself and a lobby with rococo-style plaster ornamentations, which linked it to the Cloister.
To decorate it, a series of paintings on the life of Saint Benedict were commissioned, thereby evoking the chapel of the founding saint located next to the Gothic room. They are currently on the western wall of the church, arranged like an altarpiece.
After the confiscation of ecclesiastical properties, the room has had very diverse uses: a dance hall during the town festival, a restaurant in the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition or a public boys’ school until 1932. Since the Civil War it has also had various uses, mainly cultural, such as the Institute of Romanesque Culture, the library of the Faculty of Humanities of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, an art exhibition gallery, the International School of Mural Painting, the municipal library, the workshop of the Centre of Restoration of Moveable Property and, currently, the Monastery Museum.
It is interesting to note that in 1930, during the restoration work on the Cloister, the plaster of this north wall was removed and two entrances and several pointed windows appeared, bricked up, corresponding to the early monastic refectory. Eight survive and all are double splayed; to form the arch a centring was used made of rods, whose mark is still visible. The windows were closed with a very simple lattice, with square holes with pointed edges, a solution that was quite common in the pre-Romanesque era but also in the Arab world. Now only half a sheet of one of them remains.