Photo and text: Antonio Colmenar.
In the middle of the Aragonese Pyrenees is the spectacular space of the old monastery of San Juan de la Peña, a jewel of the medieval period. The buildings preserved, only part of those that existed, are excellent testimonies of the successive artistic forms in the different times that this singular centre had life.
At the foot of the Aragonese Saint James’s Way, San Juan de la Peña is one of the peninsular monuments attracting the most visitors, both because of its historical-artistic interest and because of the matchless beauty of its location and the landscapes around it.
The origin of San Juan de la Peña goes back to a miraculous episode that took place in the 8th century in which the young Voto, after falling down a cliff while haunting a deer, found a cave where the death body of the hermit Juan de Atarés was.
Beyond this legend, the place in which this monastery is looks more like the scenery, during the first centuries of the Reconquest, for the retreat of hermits and anchorites, the seed of the first medieval monasticism.
It was probably abandoned during the last years of the 10th century and it was in the 11th century when, in the reign of Sancho the Great of Navarre, the monastery was again revitalised with the introduction of the Benedictine rule, being its equipment extended too.
However, one of the key moments in the history of this place is 1071, the date on which the Aragonese monarch Sancho Ramírez, as well as extending the monastery with the construction of a second level, introduces, for the first time in the Iberian Peninsula, the Roman rite to the detriment of the Spanish Visigothic liturgy. That way, the monastery was, during the entire 12th century, one of the reference places for the Aragonese Monarchy, being even used as royal pantheon.