The natural barrier the Sierra de Guadarrama establishes and the unquestionable beauty of its landscapes have been determinant values without any doubt for Kings, aristocracy, and clergy to choose those mountains to build impressive and relevant constructions, such as defensive fortresses, monasteries or churches.
Today, those great core heritages suppose an attractive added value for the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park visit, being a perfect backdrop landscape for those cultural scenarios.
Nuestra Señora de Santa María de El Paular Royal Monastery (Rascafría)
The history of that monastery might be grouped on three main periods: El Paular-Carthusian Monastery (Cartuja) (1390-1835), El Paular disentailed (1835-1954) and El Paular recovered for monastic life (1954-nowadays).
The Santa María de El Paular Carthusian Monastery (Cartuja de Santa María de El Paular) foundation is dated in 1390. The Trastámara Royal House (Casa de Trastámara) granted major privileges and funded the construction expenses during all their reign. Juan II started the first Castilian Carthusian Monastery construction, where laid some hunting palaces mentioned in the Falconry Book (Libro de la Cetrería) written by Alfonso X, and a chapel called Santa María del Pobolar. This way was raised the first Castilian Carthusian Monastery and the sixth of the Spanish Carthusian foundations.
During four centuries and a half, El Paular was one of the best endowed Carthusian Monasteries, but in 1835 the Disentailment Law (Ley de Desamortización) ended up with the monastery cultural and economical golden age, supposing the spread of part of the archive, the library, the pictures gallery and other belongings.
El Paular was granted in usufruct to the Benedictine Order on December 31st 1948 “with the purpose of installing an Abbey, a vocations College and a Central House of priesthood education for Spain and overseas territories: Chile, Philippines Islands and Australia”. That community arrived in 1954, coming from the Valbanera Monastery. Today, El Paular lodges a small number of Benedictine monks, living a monastic life following the Rule of St. Benedict: liturgical life, manual and intellectual work, hosts reception, numerous visitors escort and guide and the pastoral attention to the sacramental events hold in the Monastery Church.
The Carthusian Monastery construction, participated by reputed architects like Juan Güas or Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón, was considerably prolonged. That is why gothic, baroque and renaissance elements are present. The monastery ensemble has an irregular perimeter base formed by several differentiated groups: the monks’ cloister, original monastery nucleus holding around the cells; the church situated at the cloister northeast side; the royal apartments and the monks’ area, both located in the south angle completing the ensemble with different patios and dependencies.
The church has just one nave divided in three sections. At the end of the first one there is an extraordinary polychrome and forge grille from the end of the 15th century, made by the Carthusian monk, Francisco de Salamanca. Concerning the church decoration we should emphasize the gothic alabaster altarpiece from the end of the 15th century, showing with great detail and thoroughness different Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary life scenes. Recently it has been magnificently restored and cleaned by the Ministry of Education Historic Heritage Institute (Instituto de Patrimonio Histórico del Ministerio de Educación y Cultura), allowing the altarpiece 15th century and other previous restorations colors recovery.
The flamboyant gothic style monastery major cloister, hold in its four galleries the Carthusian monks cells, prepared for study and seclusion. To decorate the interior cloister walls, the Venetian painter Vincencio Carduccio painted in the 17th century, by requirement of the Prior Juan de Beza, a set of large paintings related to St. Bruno de Colonia life, founder of the Carthusian Order and its history.
The marvelous pictorial ensemble, reference of the baroque and history painting, left El Paular with the 1835 Disentailment Law, arriving to Madrid. After its stay at La Trinidad Convent, that pictures ensemble ceased to be grouped and was spread all over different places in Spain, such as La Coruña where they gave name to a room of the Municipal Museum. Some years later, the Prado Museum, took care of that piece of art, and after being controlled and documented was distributed in other Spanish museums.
The 52 large format paintings have returned in 2011 to their original emplacement, at El Paular Monastery, to the same spaces they used for 200 years.
Those paintings return is part of the whole large and thoroughness Monastery restoration process, where the Cloister rehabilitation has been the previous step. This cloister recovery, in charge of the Ministry of Education and Culture, has included the appropriate air-conditioning and drainage systems, and the adequate lighting effects, preparing an exceptional reception for that relevant masterpiece.
As important as the space preparation at El Paular, have been the over 10 working years of the thoroughness restoration process directed by the Head of the Prado Museum “Spanish painting up to 1700” Department.