San Juan de la Pena, Pyrenees, Spain, Holy Grail
Lying on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage the monastery complex of San Juan de la Peña (St. John of the Crag) is one of the most famous in Aragon. The complex, set among a landscape of woodland and cliffs, consists of two sites - a lower, older monastery built under an overhanging cliff and a newer abbey and museum.
Lower monasteryLegend tells of a noble that while out hunting gave chase to a stag. The stag ran over a cliff and the noble’s horse unable to stop in time followed over the edge. Uttering a prayer to John the Baptist, instead of being dashed to death on the rocks below, the noble found himself safely landed beside a cave. Inside he found the remains of a hermit and decided to set up a monastery at the spot to thank the Saint for his escape from death.
Evocatively nestled under looming cliffs the buildings of the old monastery use a mixture of stonework and natural rock to form their walls.
The Mozarabic chapel - the oldest part of the complex - dates back to 920. A pantheon contains the tombs of early Kings of Aragon, but the real highlight is the 12th century Romanesque cloister. Arches on two sides of the cloister remain intact with exquisitely carved capitals on each column depicting a scene from the bible.
New monasteryAfter a fire in 1675 ravaged the old building, a new monastery was constructed higher up, above the cliffs. The monastery was abandoned in 1835 with only the church and its grand Baroque facade surviving. Recently, extensive archaeological work has been undertaken on the 17th century building and in 2007 a museum was opened interpreting daily life in San Juan de la Peña. Cleverly designed the museum has a glass floor allowing you to look down onto the archaeological site.
The Holy GrailAnother legend attached to San Juan de la Peña is that of the Holy Grail. The story relates that the Grail was given to a Spanish soldier in Rome during the third century who promptly took it back to his home in Huesca. During the Moorish invasion the Grail found it’s way to San Juan for safe keeping. In 1399 the Aragonese King Martino V took it to his palace in Zaragoza - when the monks asked for it back he tricked them with a replica. When the King of Valencia acceded to the Aragonese throne he took the Grail back to Valencia Cathedral where it has remained until today. The replica Grail at San Juan was destroyed by the fire of 1675 but a replica of the replica is on display in the old monastery. Historians have tested the Grail in Valencia and have discovered that underneath additions in the 9th, 15th and 16th centuries lies a Roman agate cup.