Veruela, the Oldest Cistercian Monastery in Aragon, Spain
Veruela is situated in a small valley formed by the River Huecha, which has its source very close to the monastery, and is sheltered by the mythical mount Moncayo. The oldest surviving document which mentions the founding of the monastery dates back to 1 145 when the ground at Veruela was donated for the construction of a Cistercian monastery. This religious order was founded in France in 1098 by Roberto de Molesmes who wished to re-establish the original austerity of the fifth century Benedictine order. Molesmes later retired to Citeaux, near Dijon, . Shortly afterwards, Saint Bernard founded Claraval, taking on a monumental spreading and doctrinal task. In Aragon, great orders were established, notably Veruela (1145 or 1146), Rueda (1153) and Piedra (1194), all of which are found in the province of Zaragoza. These religious orders fomented new cultural, spiritual and religious values and brought economic and political advantages. The roturadores (plowmen), as the Cistercian monks were known, due to their economic and agricultural influence, organised their abbeys into real hubs of activity, by ploughing uncultivated land or territorial borders thus regenerating depopulated or sparsely populated areas, both of which are typical of the Veruela region. Controlled water resource management was necessary and thus the Verolense monks set up a wide-ranging network of irrigation channels, weirs and windmills around the Huecha river basin.
The construction of the monastery must have been sufficiently advanced for the community to move there in 1171. Work on the church continued for another two hundred and fifty years. The end result is sparten, with few sculptured ornaments – in keeping with the doctrine of Saint Bernard – However, the cathedral style proportions and craftsmanship demonstrate the extensive financial \resources of the monastery. High returns maintained a large and undiminishing monk community and alll, veel-for continual improvements and extensions to the monastery. Thus, between 1472 and 1617, the Verolense abbots were appointed by the king and no longer by the Cistercian order. Great abbots from this period were Hernando de Aragon (1535 – 1539), grandson of Ferdinand the Catholic, who later became the Archbishop of Zaragoza, and his good friend and successor, Lope Marco (1539 – 1560).
Under the governance of the Cistercian Brotherhood of the Crown of Aragon, created in 1617, the abbots held office for a period of four years until the event of the abolition of monastic orders when church land was sold off. This political change coincided with one of the largest expansion programmes of the monastery, the construction of the new monastery (XVII-XVIII) incorporating individual cells for the monks (around sixty-five cells).
The Becquer family in Veruela
The selling off of land under Mendizabal in 1835 led to the abandonment of the Monastery of Veruela which had been in irreversible decline since the beginning of the century. The Madrid Central Commission for Artistic Monuments (Cornision central de Monumentos Artisticos de Madrid) insisted on the conservation of the monastery, saving it from destruction. Since then it has been the destination for countless romantics, amongst others, the Becquer brothers Between April 1877 and 1973, the jesuits took up residence here, and used the building for training purposes It was declared a national monument in 1919 and became a listed building in 1928. In 1976 the Spanish Directorate General for Fine Arts granted the Provincial Council of Zaragoza permission to preserve and renovate the building Several hundred million pesetas was invested over a sustained period of more than twenty years. In 1998 Veruela became the property of the Provincial Council of Zaragoza which continues to oversee the restoration works and has initiated a cultural development programme.
Following the selling off of the land in 1835, Veruela became a summer retreat for determined travellers who went to study rocks or enjoy the natural beauty spots at Moncayo where according to a saying dating back to 1861 All ailments are cured by the air in Veruela The poet Gustavo Adolfo Becquer and his brother, the painter Valeriano enjoyed an extended stay in Veruela with their families between December 1863 and July 1864. During this perod, Gustavo Adolfo wrote a series of nine letters known collectively as Desde mi celda (From my cell), written for Madrid’s daily newspaper El Contemporaneo (published between May and October 1864) and Valeriano, who returned to Veruela in August 1865, produced various drawings and water colours, notably Expedicion de Veruela (Columbia University, New York). The poet was already familiar with the area as his wife came from Noviercas in the Sorian area of Moncayo and the Moncayo landscape inspired many of his most famous works such as El monte de las animas (1861), El gnomo and La corza blanca ( 1863)
As a result of their stay in the monastery of Veruela, the two brothers prepared a series of articles on Veruela and its people, written by Gustavo Adolfo and illustrated by Valeriano Becquer s articles published between 1865 and 1869 and his brother Valeriano’s paintings show their interest in anthropology.