The old Sacromonte Abbey dates back to the 17th century. Nowadays it is the residence of several canons, as well as a parish and an ecclesiastical museum. It is located in Granada, on the Valparaíso mountain. You can reach it by the Sacromonte road or the old Fargue road. Located at the top of the quarter that gives it its name and on the banks of the river Darro, the Sacromonte Abbey is an institution that has 400 years of history. In all these years the abbey has been one of the most important spiritual and pilgrimage centres in Andalusia. Thus, together with the Cathedral of Granada and the Alhambra, the Sacromonte Abbey is a fundamental piece in the history of this Andalusian city.
History of Sacromonte Abbey
You have to go back to the 16th century to know the beginning of the Sacromonte Abbey history. Specifically, in 1595 some ovens dating from the Roman period were discovered on the Valparaíso mountain. In these ovens were found the remains and relics of Saint Caecilius, disciple of the Apostle Santiago and current patron saint of the abbey and Granada. He was the first known bishop of the Roman city of Ilíberis, later known as Granada. The remains of other partners of the saint who suffered martyrdom when Nero’s persecutions took place were also found. When people heard about these findings, they began to make a pilgrimage to this mountain. As a consequence, the bishop of Granada, Don Pedro de Castro, ordered the construction of an abbey there.
However, not only were the remains of the martyrs found in the Roman ovens, but also some lead plates written in Arabic. These plates are known as lead books. They tell stories about the apostolic and Arab origin of the religion of Christianity in Granada. The authenticity of these books has always been linked to controversy, but the objective with which they were carried out stands out: to unite the Arab and Christian communities. These plaques told that although Christianity had lived in these lands long before Islam, there was no reason to despise the Moorish culture. The content of these lead books was disallowed by the Holy See. However, the cultural and historical value they preserve remains a great richness of the Sacromonte Abbey, as well as its mission of dialogue between cultures.
According to the inscriptions on these plates, St. Caecilius suffered martyrdom on the site where the abbey now stands on the 1st February of the second year of Nero’s Roman Empire. The discovery of his remains implied the pilgrimage to the Holy Caves, as the ovens in which the remains were discovered were later called. On the pilgrimage route, 1,200 crosses were built, of which only five remain today.
Holy Caves of the Sacromonte Abbey
Thus, between 1595 and 1597, the first works were carried out to dig up the caves (or ovens) where the martyrdom of St. Caecilius and his companions had taken place due to the persecution of Christianity in Rome. In 1598 the archbishop of Granada, Don Pedro Castro, created the chapels of the Holy Caves to attend the pilgrims.
The group of caves that is shown here is delimited by a brick wall with star decoration and an inscription with the year of its construction in 1598.
At the entrance of the Holy Caves there is an altar where two wax images of the martyrs St. Victor and St. Leoncio are venerated. After this, you descend a staircase located under the altar until you reach the Holy Caves. In these caves there are several chapels.
One of them is the Chapel of La Dolorosa. Another is the chapel of Piedra, so called because inside it there is a stone of enormous size. According to a popular legend, women who wish to find a husband during that year only have to kiss the stone.
The chapel of Santiago is another of the Holy Caves. The tradition tells that the Apostle Santiago celebrated the first service in Spain here. It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to him there for the first time. In this chapel there is an altarpiece from the end of the 17th century. Finally, there is a small chapel (the oven where the Christians suffered martyrdom) protected by a grille. Behind it, a bust of St. Caecilius as well as a cross that according to popular legend was carried by St. Juan de Dios while he begged for alms in the streets of Granada. Next to the caves is the cemetery where the canons rest.
The Abbey, the Church and the Museum
The Sacromonte Abbey was built in the 17th century, obtaining great relevance as a religious and cultural complex. With the years it suffered a decadence that conditioned the disappearance of the Sacromonte. The cross erected by the Franciscans is still preserved. Nowadays, parts of the abbey are being restored. However, one of the best preserved areas is the cloister. On all four sides of it you can enjoy the galleries with Tuscan columns. There are semicircular arches and tondos (round arches) with the seal of Solomon and the coat of arms of Castro. The cloister has a large fountain in the centre.
The church of San Dionisio is one of the most unknown areas of the Sacromonte Abbey. It is the result of an enlargement that took place in the abbey in the 19th century. It is a building with high ceilings and large windows with coloured glass that evoke Christian images.
The Collegiate Church was completed in 1610 and is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. It has a Latin cross floor plan and is covered by a choir and vaults. On its walls you can see numerous sculptures and paintings of outstanding beauty and value. In a side chapel is the Cristo del Consuelo, also called Gypsy Christ, which dates from 1695. It is one of the most popular floats of the Holy Week in Granada.
As for the museum, it is located on one side of the abbey courtyard. It has four rooms with many art works by artists who lived in Granada in the 16th and 17th centuries. For example, codices and incunables like a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle by Hartmann Schedel, Arab manuscripts, a map by Ptolemy… Special attention should be given to lead books. You can also see an abundant collection of sculptures and paintings. An example is the portrait of Don Francisco de Saavedra by Francisco de Goya. Also La Virgen de la Rosa, by Gérard David, known as one of the representatives of Flemish painting.