Amidst fields of crops on the banks of the river Queiles, next to the houses that make up the hamlet of Tulebras in the Ribera (southern) region of Navarre, stands the Monastery of Santa María de la Caridad, the first convent that the Cistercians founded in Spain
. Since its construction in the twelfth century it has housed the monastic life of the nuns, who undertook its renovation a few years ago.
The search for purity and the fundamental through forsaking any superfluous adornment is a principle of the Cistercians, and is achieved to perfection in this convent. The church, the cloister, the abbatial palace, the museum and the remains of an old Roman tower are major elements of the heritage that has been preserved.
Touring it in silence will give you a wonderful sense of serenity and introspection while at the same time revealing a fascinating collection of religious art
The first nunnery in Spain, dedicated to Santa María de la Caridad, was initially founded in Tudela in 1149 under the name of Santa María de las Dueñas and in 1157 it was transferred to Tulebras, a hamlet of barely 100 inhabitants located three kilometres from Cascante. Its era of glory coincided with the twelfth century, but decline came between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with the destruction of the hamlet by the Castilians, including the monastery.
The tour of the monastery allows to discover the church and museum. The Cistercian church, dating from the twelfth century, has a single nave and a semicircular apse with a stellar vaulted ceiling, built in the sixteenth century to replace the earlier one. Observe the huge altar table from the thirteenth century and the image of the Virgin of Charity, in Gothic style (14th century), and on the outside take a close look at the small Romanesque door on the Evangelist side.
The museum, standing next to the church, in an old dormitory dating from the 12th century, an exquisite collection of sacred art from the 16th to 18th centuries is on display, a highlight of which is the beautiful renaissance altarpiece showing the sleeping Virgin Mary and the panel of the Holy Trinity, both by Jerónimo Cósida, as well as the original Virgen de la Cama, a unique iconographic example of Baroque embellishment. As well as different examples of gold and silverwork, choir books and furniture, the adjacent Roman tower also houses some interesting archaeological pieces.
You can contemplate the cloister from a small window in the museum, built in the sixteenth century, which still has its groined vaulting. The abbatial palace, built in the 19th century in Baroque style with a brick façade, displays an attractive alabaster coat of arms above the main door.
The museum tour guides are nuns and they make delicious home-made pastries which are on sale together with traditionally-produced honey and natural cosmetics.