Monasterio de Irache (Iratxe)

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Another important stop on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela, this is now just off the motorway in open countryside near the settlement of Ayegui/Aiegu. It is surrounded by vineyards and there is a Bodega with a Museum of Wine in front of the monastery. Round the back are the two outdoor taps which still supply water or wine to pilgrims. Take a cup, unless you cup your hands. 

This was the site of the first hostel in the region, a large building by the church with iron grilles on the windows and carved escutcheons above the door. It hasn’t been used since 1985 and there have been plans to turn it into an Ethnographic Museum. In front is a large and very pleasant, grassed area with pollarded plane trees with parking.

The monastery church has a big offset bell tower at the west end of the church. This has a domed roof with a small cupola on the top with weathervane and cross. The doorway is set back under an arched porch with Baroque carvings above and two statues. On either side of the portico are two lion’s head gargoyles. The porch roof has three ribs each with carved bases with scrolls, griffons and a carved head. The doorway is set in an uncarved arch with the Xhi-Rho symbol at the top. The door pillars have carving of endless knots and a lamb surrounded by a geometric design. The outer wood doorway is decorated with metal circles.

A second doorway leads into a low vaulted arch beneath the gallery which is later than the rest of the church. It contains the font.

It is a massive 13thC church and, apart from the balcony and arch, is untouched by later additions. Massive pillars with simply carved tops and pointed arches separate the nave and side aisles. Between the ribs are cross vaults with carved bosses.

Stations of the cross are simple metal crosses with fleur de lys ends and the Roman numeral beneath.

There is a large Romanesque east apse reached by steps. The bases of the transept pillars are carved with shells. This has a free standing stone table altar. On a pillar behind is a beautiful silver plated crowned figure of the Virgin holding the Christ Child. On the walls is round arcading with slender round pillars with carved capitals and a studded arch above them. Some have windows, others are blind. Above are small round windows.

A small glass fronted niche in the north wall contains a metal and glass reliquary of St Veremundo. On the wall behind it is a design of wheels and small quatrefoils in a round arch with pillars.

On the wall of the south aisle is a small carving of St Christopher with a staff and carrying the Christ Child on his shoulders as he wades through water.

The north aisle has a massive stone tomb with the recumbent figure of what could be a bishop. At the front corners are two figures whose heads have been hacked off. The base has a carved figure of a bishop holding his crook. On either side are figures of monks and a bishop.

Off the south wall is a later sacristy chapel with a complex vaulted ceiling with painted boss with pictures of heads. In niches on the south wall are painted statues of Mary and Jesus with a small wall mounted crucifix between them. In front of them is a small wooden altar with the image of the Virgin on the front of the altar cloth. On the east wall is a lavabo with water coming out of a cherub’s mouth.

Double doors on the south wall lead through into the 17thC cloisters. On a small wooden plinth by the door is a small china statue of the Virgin Mary with a cherub and cherub heads round her feet.

The cloisters have a very tall arcade with external pillars extending to the roof. On the inside are fluted pillars which have empty niches with a shell at the top which were intended to hold statues. The bases are caved and each one is different with buildings, animals, figures with urns…The tops of the pillars are carved where they join the elaborately vaulted ceiling with carved bosses.

Make sure you look back up at the doorway back into the church with its carved arches. On either side is a roundel with a carved head. Above is a frieze of carved cherub heads. Above is a praying figure surrounded by cherubs set between pillars with a praying figure on either side. At the top is God the Father flanked by figures holding crests.

Above the cloisters is a row of square windows with square glazing bars. These have rounded tops with radiating spoke glazing bars. The windows sit on a square base with square geometric designs. Between them are fluted pillars. The stone arches above the windows are made up of carved blocks. Between them are carved circles. Above is a frieze of groups of three small columns.

In many ways this is a very plain church, but typical of the Romanesque style of architecture with its massive strength. We love the Roman architecture with its simple lines and uncluttered feel. This is our sort of church.

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