Monastery of Santa María de Sigena

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Portal to the church.
The room restructured at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya to hold the Romanesque frescos from Sigena

Monasterio de Santa María de Sigena is a convent in Villanueva de Sigena, region of Aragon, Spain. It was constructed between 1183 and 1208, founded by Queen Sancha of Castile, wife of Alfonso II of Aragon, for nuns from the richest families of Aragon.

The monastery flourished in the 14th century thanks to royal support, but declined after the crown of Aragon merged with that of Castile. In 1835, after the Ecclesiastical Confiscations of Mendizábal deprived it of most of its revenues, it was abandoned by the nuns, although later some returned. In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, it suffered a fire, and was restored in the 1950s. Starting from 1985, it is inhabited by nuns of the Sisterhood of Belén y de la Asunción de la Virgen.

The original settlement of the town was based round the partially ruined, and once wealthy and aristocratic Romanesque convent which was largely destroyed by fire in 1936 by anti-clerical Anarchist militiamen in the Spanish Civil War. Several royal burials were made in the convent church, including Sancha, who lived out her last years and died there, after being marginalized by her son Pedro II of Aragon, who is also buried there with two of his sisters.

The chapter house housed extremely important Romanesque frescos of about 1200 by largely English artists, probably including some of those who produced the Winchester Bible; this was only realized after their destruction. The artists also appear to have visited Palermo before Sigena, as some influence from mosaics there can be seen. The frescos had been fully photographed in black and white shortly before their destruction, and the remaining damaged sections, mostly having lost their colour, were moved to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona in 1936.[1]

The Master of Sigena (Maestro de Sigena) is an early 16th-century painter who painted a large altarpiece for the church between 1510 and 1521, panels from which are now in the Prado in Madrid and the museum in Zaragoza.

The monastery church is on the Latin cross plan, with a single nave, a wide transept and three apse chapels. It is in Romanesque style, with elements from Cistercian and Mudéjar styles, such as the roofs. The main portal features 14 archivolts.

The Romanesque cloister, once in ruins, owes its current appearance to a 1974 reconstruction. Artworks still in place include the royal tombs of Sancha and Peter of Castile, while the former abbess' throne is in the Diocesan and Comarcal Museum of Lleida.

The current judicial process

The Monastery of Sigena, royal pantheon of Aragon declared National Monument in 1923, has been repeatedly plundered, beginning with the stripping of the unique Romanesque paintings (13th century) from the Chapter Hall during the Spanish Civil War.

The National Museum of Art of Catalonia (MNAC) and the Generalitat of Catalunya have been condemned in two sentences (July 2016 and April 2015) to return murals and 97 works of art and objects stored or exhibited in the MNAC and in the Diocesan Museum of Lerida, and whose alleged titles of property or possession have been rejected in the courts.

Although the courts have ordered full compliance with the two judgements, only 51 pieces that were not exposed, out of the 97 that belong to the Monastery, have been returned, and the mural paintings of the Chapter Hall still remain in the MNAC.

A Social Platform ( has been created in order o achieve the return of the assets dispossed to the Monastery of Sigena.


  1. ^ Otto Pacht A Cycle of English Frescoes in Spain The Burlington Magazine, 1961, Vol. 103, No. 698 (May, 1961), pp. 166-162
  • Oakeshott, Walter, Sigena: Romanesque Painting in Spain & the Winchester Bible Artists, London, 1972, Harvey, Miller and Medcalf. ISBN 0-8212-0497-1
  • Rincón García, Wifredo (2000). Tesoros de España 7: Monasterios. Espasa Calpe. ISBN 84-239-6671-2. 

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Coordinates: 41°42′34″N 0°01′10″W / 41.70944°N 0.01944°W / 41.70944; -0.01944