Built in the shelter of the mountain of Montejurra in Ayegui, just two kilometres from Estella-Lizarra and surrounded by vineyards, the Monastery of Iratxe initially appears to visitors as an immense mass of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque buildings
It was the first pilgrims' hospice in Navarre (the Orreaga/Roncesvalles hospice was not built until a century later) and it was constructed on the orders of King García 'el de Nájera' (11th century). Its golden age coincided with the years during which San Veremundo was the Abbott
(1056-1098); he was so charitable to the poor that he used to take them food concealed under his habit. Whenever his brothers used to reproach him, he would lift up his habit and roses or wooden chips would appear instead of bread so the beggars could warm themselves.
The monastery, which was dedicated to Santa María la Real, was continually inhabited, which meant that it was kept in a very good condition. In 1985, however, the lack of vocations caused the monks to depart and since then it has been uninhabited. The complex housed a University between 1569 and 1824.Entrance
to the monastery is free
of charge and the most stunning sight of the complex is the Romanesque church
, which was started in the 12th century over the remains of a previous pre-Romanesque church. It is laid out in the shape of a Latin cross and has three semicircular apses, evidence of primitive construction, of which the central apse is notable for its perfectly-preserved cornice adorned with animals.
You can enter the church through two Romanesque doorways
, St. Peter's door (the main door), which is carved with historical motifs: It is also worth stopping to have a look at the Preciosa door which links the Plateresque cloister with the church and features images of the Saviour and the Virgin Mary.
The monastic sacristy (16th century), the chapterhouse with its ribbed vault and a large building dating from the beginning of the seventeenth century which used to house the University of Iratxe are also well worth a visit.
For centuries, it housed the image of Our Lady of Iratxe
(12th century), one of the most beautiful examples of Marian Romanesque imagery in Navarre. Made of wood, it stands one metre high and is covered with silver plate, except for the face and hands. If you would like to admire her, however, you will need to go to the church of Dicastillo, around 10 kilometres to the south of Ayegui, where she has been kept for the last century.
Next to the monastery is a fountain which pours water from one spout and wine from the other
, with the aim of sating the thirst and cheering the progress of the pilgrims. The fountain belongs to the Bodegas Irache
winery, which stands next to the monastery, where you can take a guided tour.