Hello again everyone! Sorry for the break, but as I explained previously I’ve been rather busy translating lately and couldn’t spend more time with my eyes glues to the screen.
However, today I took advantage of the cooler (28 °C) windier weather to go for a long drive up to the local sierra of Hornachuelos to visit a convent, Nuestra Señora de la Sierra in the area of San Calixto, lying almost in the middle of nowhere.
It’s surrounded by vegetation that ranges from open fields, olive groves, shrubs such as wild cistus, pistacia mastic and terebinthus, as well as old holm oak trees and cork oaks that have recently been stripped of their bark. (For more about the vegetation of the Hornachuelos Nature Reserve and its haunted monastery you can see my previous blog.)
The story of this particular convent goes back to the 16th century. It is said to have been founded by two monks who, after wandering the Sierra looking for a suitable place to make their sanctuary, finally came to rest in a hilly area full of thistles (cardos), high above the flood zone of the Bembézar River. Knowledge of their fervorous, holy pursuit spread, and they were soon joined by other hermits.
For shelter, they made a hut out of rockrose branches where they placed their image of Saint Michael. Eventually, in 1543, they founded the Monastery of San Basilio del Tardón. (It is said that Tardon derives from Cardón, which was the name given to this area by the monks. It is a derivative of cardo, or ‘thistle’, and refers to the thistle-covered hill where they lived.)
The monastery was inhabited by monks until 1808. A few years later, Francisco Sánchez, a Knight of the Order of Charles III was granted permission to build a hamlet on all the surrounding (thistly) land of Cardón/Tardón. He named the area San Calixto. Over the years the hamlet grew in size, and by the mid-19th century its population rose to a hundred and fifty. The village now boasted its own town hall, prison, communal oven and a posada (an inn). (San Calixto lies at about eleven miles above Hornachuelos, passing the visitor centre, Huerta del Rey.)
However, bit by bit the area and monastery fell into abandonment, perhaps due to its isolated location. It was not until 1940 that the hamlet and all the surrounding areas were bought by the marquis. As a result, the desolated, spiritual ground was resuscitated. This time though, a convent was constructed over the ruins of the ancient monastery, and was baptised Convento de las Carmelitas Descalzas de Nuestra Señora de la Sierra (Convent of the Barefoot Carmelites of Our Lady of the Sierra—a bit of a mouthful!).
Today, the convent serves as a spiritual retreat and tourist attraction, alluring many visitors with its fascinating charm and beauty. Two important guests included the former Belgium monarchs, King Balduino y Queen Fabiola. (They were related to the marquises via Fabiola, who was originally a Madrid-born Spanish aristocrat). The royal couple spent their honeymoon there in 1960.
Additionally, another attraction of this convent is the handiwork products that you can purchase, which are made by the nuns. These ladies-of-the-cloth are extremely talented in needlework and other crafts, employing local materials such as cork from the indigenous alcornoque oak trees, as well as wool, fur and antlers from the animals that inhabit the land. They also grow their own vegetables.
(A little word of advice here: if you do ring at the door of this convent wanting to have a look at their products, don’t be surprised when you are answered by a thin, delicate voice that glides out from the holes in the iron-grate window; it greets the visitor while at the same time pays homage to the Virgin Mary, murmuring piously, ‘Ave María Purissima’, to which the knowledgeable visitor is expected to reply, ‘sin pecado concebida’, meaning ‘conceived without sin’. However, if you are not so well-versed in devotional greetings—like I wasn’t—then you might just reply with an irreverent ‘¡Buenos días!’ So be warned!)
Well, that’s all for now folks! Thanks for bearing with me and my fabulous photography (ha ha!).
Take care xxx
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