Monesterio de Tentudia

There are seven hundred species of eucalyptus but only fifteen occur outside Australia
They’re fast growing, produce an insecticide and reduce the risk of malaria by draining swamps
Though sometimes their consumption of water doesn’t justify the benefits

Extremadura and Andalucía, as part of the Mediterranean Basin, have large tracts of eucalyptus
In the past they were valued for construction
The roof beams of my house were logs of eucalyptus but were compromised by woodworm some time ago


The eucalyptus is an unruly tree; flaccid, indistinct and without body
Sparse leaves, shedding bark unequal to its majestic height
Above all else the eucalyptus thrusts upwards, nothing else matters
It can be unstoppable even over sixty meters

But eucalyptus is no longer a coppiced wood in Spain
Thought invasive, sucking valued water from southern Iberia’s already arid soil
So the beams of my house were replaced with pine logs from Tentudia

By the side of the Autovía Ruta de la Plata the mixture of Tentudia’s tightly crowned, stone pines and leggy maritime pines carpet the Sierra Morena 
Either compact and sculptural, or straight and true they rise side-by-side around the highest point of Extremadura
A barrier for drivers preventing views from the precipitous drops as the road cuts it’s way up the mountain from Calera de León


At the summit the forest clears and the Monesterio de Tentudia is built at the very apex, a celebration of a thirteenth century miracle; testament to the partiality of a God in support of the Christians against the Moors, during the reconquest

In a battle to win the surrounding sierras the maestre Pelay Pérez Correa, of the Order of Santiago, found daylight fading fast; an impending triumph soon to be lost with nightfall
With the benefit of darkness, the Moors would regroup

He pleaded to the Virgin Mary… ¡Santa María, detén tu día!
Stop the day!
And, indeed, the day stopped sufficiently to allow el maestre to defeat the Moors

Such benefaction deserved something in return and so Pelay Pérez Correa built a small chapel that, in 1514, would become the Monesterio de Tentudia
There was no place further from the world, or closer to God
A God that had justly delivered a victory against the Saracenic barbarians

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx the monesterio, cloister, church, Order members interred, altar piece, Pérez Correa

Even now, builders will scratch their chins, suck air through their teeth and stifle a chuckle, providing a presupuesto* for an inaccessible location
Man hours for shifting materials are expensive
The monastery’s timber and stone lay at the builder’s feet
But transportation of the tiles, bricks and mortar was more problematical
Many donkeys would have picked their way up the mountain from Calera de León burdened with materials

The monastery is considered one the finest examples of Spanish Mudéjar architecture
Yet I found the castellations and heavy buttressed walls of the monesterio a contradiction to the day-to-day piousness

Apparently, the Order of Santiago, were no Trappists, neither were they Benedictine, Carmelites or Cistercians
Like the Augustinians, the Order practiced a more pragmatic form of devotion
Their purpose was to protect the pilgrims of Santiago; hospitality and military force were los maestres principal objectives

Indeed, it would be hard to recognize any monastic virtues in the Order’s membership requirements
A pious devotion was not enough, it was necessary to be of noble birth
To have carried out manual labour was a disqualification
Six months service in the galleys of warships was a necessity, though a payment could be made to nullify this requirement
Neither could they be a Jew, a Muslim or a heretic, much less an attorney, moneylender, public notary or retail merchant
If they satisfied these stringent requirements they would spend only a month in a monastery learning the regulations of the Order

One might imagine this included hand-to-hand combat, or swordsmanship, such was their involvement with the king’s armies across Spain and the Mediterranean
Far exceeding their remit for the protection of pilgrims

When united with the Orders of MontesaAlcántara and Calatrava they formed a privileged elite and became military orders
They were knights, not monks, like the Knights Templar, former impecunious French monks, who fought nearby in the reconquest

Though with time entry regulations were relaxed and fighting largely gave way to more cerebral matters
Eventually, the monastery became a centre of learning with jurisdiction over nine local villages
Later a highly regarded college of humanities for language, the Arts and theology
Until the nineteenth century one of the most esteemed in Extremadura

The santiaguistas** were not Trappists but, at this time, they would have been scholarly and pious
The knights of the Order were the nomadic warriors pre-empting attack on their homeland by taking their fight to the enemy
Except for refuge and hospitality, spending little time in the monastery

Unfortunately Holy Crusades were a religious necessity; piety and the sword went together
When the battle cry was heard it was certain that the Order of Santiago were present and willing to wage battle even if the result was hell and damnation
Todays members of the Orden de Santiago are, King Felipe VI, the Comendador Mayor de Castilla; the Comendador Mayor de León is the Conde de Santa Ana de las Torres; whilst the Comendador Mayor de Montalbán is Don Juan de la Barreda y Acedo-Rico

I couldn’t comment about their piety, commitment to hell and damnation, but certainly impecuniosity is indisputably not a problem

*   a builder’s quotation
**   members of the Order of Santiago
photography and text by Tim Harris
This entry was published on April 24, 2016 at 9:00 pm. It’s filed under Countryside, Extremadura, History, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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