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Carthusian monks built this site because of cliff-climbing angels

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Daniel Esparza - published on 02/06/24

Being the very first Carthusian monastery on the Iberian Peninsula, the Monastery of St. Mary of Escaladei is also the only remaining Carthusian monastery accessible to the public in the region.

The Carthusian order was founded in the late 11th century in the French Prealps by Bruno de Cologne. By the end of the next century, as northern Spain was being reconquered and the territory needed to be repopulated, Carthusians arrived in the Peninsula for the very first time. Their first monastery was the imposing Cartoixa D’Escaladeithe Carthusian Monastery of St. Mary of Escaladei – Escaladei being a phonetic corruption of the original Latin Scala Dei, “the ladder of God,” or even “the ladder unto God.”

Now, after four years of intense work, the restoration of the Cartoixa d’Escaladei church has been completed. Being the very first Carthusian monastery on the Iberian Peninsula, it is considered a jewel of the Catalan pre-Renaissance. Furthermore, it is the only remaining Carthusian monastery accessible to the public in the region.

As read in TimeOut.cat, the restoration project included architectural work, as well as historical and archaeological research. As is often the case with these churches, Escaladei went through successive restorations and renovations throughout the centuries, so different architectural styles coexist, one next to the other. The church’s interior, for example, has been restored to its 18th-century appearance, including the painted ceiling. The project also included the rehabilitation of the church’s pavement, as well as the study of the building’s original structure.

The restoration, TimeOut.cat goes on, allowed for the excavation and study of the funerary house of Josep Pi, a canon of the old Lleida Cathedral (the noted Seu Vella), who was buried at the monastery in 1743. The project has also facilitated a better understanding of the place in which the tabernacle was kept in the church of the monastery: So far, only a few documentary reports and bits of architectural evidence had been found.

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Being the very first Carthusian monastery on the Iberian Peninsula, it is considered a jewel of the Catalan pre-Renaissance. Furthermore, it is the only remaining Carthusian monastery accessible to the public in the region.

The restoration of the Cartoixa d’Escaladei church is a major milestone in the preservation of Iberian heritage. The church is now open to the public and is set to be a popular tourist destination in the Priorat region.

God’s Ladder: The Montsant

El Priorat, as a wine-growing area, arose when these monks settled in the province of Tarragona at the request of Alfonso II. Local legends claim that, as they were crossing the Sierra del Montsant (Catalan for “Holy Mountain”), they met a shepherd who told them he saw some angels who were climbing the steep cliffs of the mountain range using a ladder that went all the way up to the clouds.

The monks saw this as a sign from God, the shepherd’s story resembling that of Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28:11-19).  They thus decided to build their charterhouse there and call it Scala Dei, “God’s Ladder.”  

Currently, El Priorat attracts tourists from all over the world, due to its mountain landscape, famous wines, charming towns (most of them less than an hour from the sea), its many medieval hermitages and chapels, and its remarkable gastronomyNearby towns have recently became free climbing hot spots – exactly what one would expect from a divine ladder.

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