Suggested Behavior at a Spanish Monastery and Contact Info
Welcoming guests is an important part of the work of many monasteries as it helps them pay for the time to pray for their daily bread. The founder of European monasticism, St Benedict wrote, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” But he also he wrote, “On no account let anyone who is not ordered to do so, associate or speak with guests...”
There are hotels run by religious groups or as an adjunct to a monastery. But staying inside, following a monastic regime, and accepting a certain discipline is what the religious orders ask those who wish to stay.
Many of the monasteries will accept a guest who wants to follow, to some extent, the daily schedule. They might need to rise for Matins at 5:15---though truth be told, I usually missed it. Laudes is at 7:00. It is interesting to be up in the choir stalls with monks who are trying to juggle the two books that are used during services—one for the prayers that change according to the hour, and the other for those that are constant.
Breakfast follows after morning services. The simplest meal of the day, it consists of a cold buffet of cereal, yogurt, bread and butter, and coffee. You bus your own dishes to the kitchen and make sure to separate organic and non-organic waste. Monastic orders are very conscious of their environment.
The guest master does not take attendance at the prayers and mass, but he appreciates guests attending at least some of the prayers, especially the daily mass and vespers. Even if you cannot follow the Gregorian chant, being in the still of the monastery and listening to the medieval music is a wonderful experience. Many of the better choirs have made money from selling chant CDs.
In reality the majority of the other guests will be attending most of the services. But you are not expected to walk around the cloister with head bowed and doing penance. Some of the most beautiful Spanish monasteries: Poblet near Tarragona, Montserrat near Barcelona, and Samos in Galicia are on the tourist track or The Camino de Santiago. Tourists are kept out until visiting hours, and guests will be enclosed along with the monks.
By 10 a.m.—at the latest—the doors open. They close again by 2 p.m. for prayers and lunch. You might miss the prayer. but you are expected to be a regular at meals. And lunch is the often the best meal of the day.
Monasteries are divided into three zones. During the day, there will be the areas where tourists may visit (often in guided tours). Tourists usually are shown the church, cloister, and are allowed to take a look through the doors of the library and the dining room.
Guests have their room (sparsely furnished but with heating and full shower) a small library, and perhaps a sitting room or chapel. While you can enjoy seeing more than a tourist, the monks will disappear to their own private area where guests are not permitted.
Even when the guest stays in their own room, there are still norms. The following are typical for those guests in a monastic regime:
- You are asked not to use radios or TVs. Mobile phones should be on quiet mode. I have used my laptop with no problem, but without any Internet connection.
- Any conversations amongst guests should be in the guest area and conducted in a low voice. Individual rooms should not be used for chats.
- The only person who should be in a single room is the person who is using it.
- Even though it’s Spain, there is no smoking inside. Some monasteries will have a designated place for smoking outside or off grounds.
Spain offers a variety of monastic experiences. There are also a variety of types of guests allowed. Some are for men only, while others allow only women. Some will accept married couples, while others will accept partners. It is rare to see children involved in a monastic regime.
Some monasteries will have an established price for a stay. The Cistercians ask only for a donation. I try to offer at least 20 euros a night.
A monastic kitchen is not designed to provide special meals. But depending upon the location of the monastery, there might be a restaurant off the grounds offering a greater variety of meals.
If you have a chance, visit a monastic graveyard. Most of the monks have lived a long life. So the Mediterranean diet and a low-stress lifestyle do have own their rewards.
Two of the biggest obstacles that I have found when experiencing a monastic stay are making a reservation and actually finding some of them without a car.
Many monasteries are closed during Easter or Christmas. Some might be closed for no obvious reason, perhaps a conference or a religious or political event. Another reason might be making the grounds or church available for a TV documentary or even a movie. And if a room is available, preference is always given to other religious members or the families of the resident monks.
St. Benedict, the founder or European monastic life, directed new communities of monks to establish themselves near forests for wood, near water for brewing and wine making, and near good land for growing and pasturage. Many modern monasteries are on plots of land for which developers would pay millions. But the monks generally seek isolation. Therefore, many of monasteries remain hard to access without a car.
After reading all the above, and if you still wish to try a monastic break, how do you find one? One immediately thinks of “googling.“ Some of the better known monasteries have their own website, but many do not. The national tourist offices might be of some help. For specific suggestions see the contact sidebar below:
Resources and Contact Info
Europe’s Monastery and Convent Guesthouses: A Pilgrim’s Travel Guide
Kevin J Wright
Kevin Wright is a dedicated author who cares about his subject matter. His guide covers most of Europe, listing 28 monasteries in Spain. He supplies contact address and a website is available. But his descriptions are limited to one paragraph, and offer no historical or cultural background. The book is useful but limited. What it does well is explain the history of monasticism, the various orders, as well as offering a glossary.
Lodging in Spain’s Monasteries
Anacapa Press, AZ
Barish lists over 150 monasteries with a black and white photo, contact information, and some background history of the monastery being reviewed. The book is indiscriminate it terms of listing places that run beyond the wall hotels to those that welcome a visitor inside. The information on cost, amenities and car and train directions are helpful. The emphasis is on how a traveler can use monasteries or guest houses as cheap lodgings while also enjoying tours in the local areas. The book offers a quantity of listings but lacks quality concerning the specific monastery. The book is part of a series covering French and Italian monasteries.
Good Night and God Bless—The Modern Traveller’s Bible
This is the first of a series. Clark, now in Australia has traveled extensively in Europe and writes from first-hand experience. Her entries are short as she tries to cover most of Europe. Paulist Press in the US is publishing her guide to France and England. Her guide to Ireland is coming out in 2009. She also has a guide on Spain in the works.
The two best guides are in Spanish. If you can deal with the language, and can find either, they are the best overall. They both could use updating but the contact and historical information is useful. I have seen them in religious and larger bookstores.
Alojamientos Monásticos de España
Javier de Sagastizábal and José Antonio España
Editorial Everest S.A.
ISBN 84 – 241 – 3447 – 8
The guidebook lists 143 sites and focuses on the monastic visit. Quality color photos offer some idea of each monastery. Each 2-page spread has a map, history, and complete contact information. There is a description of what is offered to the guest along with a small section on the surrounding area. There are no suggested prices, but they would likely be out of date by now in any event.
Guía de Monasterios de España
Antonio Aradillas and José María Iñigo
Enrique Jardiel Poncela, 4
ISBN 84 – 288 – 1381 – 7
This is a well-done guide, particularly for the extensive historical and cultural background it offers on the 60 monasteries listed. While not as extensive as any of the above, I found it to be the most complete. The contact information is adequate and suggested prices are listed, albeit in pesetas.
Some useful net addresses for monasteries:
Available In several languages, this is the official site of the Trappist (or Cistercian in Europe) order. With some work, one can get addresses and general information.
This is the Benedictine site with extensive information on the order and some contact information.