At the head of the Verdera Sierra rises one of the most interesting complexes to discover the medieval world near Port de la Selva. In Sant Pere de Rodes there are three buildings worth mentioning: the Monastery of Sant Pere de rodes the most important one and it is the center of the complex, the Verdera castle and Santa Helena de Rodes church.
The Monastery of Sant Pere, became the most important one in the county of Empúries, it was a centre of pilgrimage and they also had important relics in custody.
There is a legend on how it happened that a monastery was built in that incredible place so far from the next town and ended up having relics coming from Rome. The origin of the monastery is from the first century and according to the legend, monks came into Sant Pere de Rodes looking for a place to hide relics from the Vatican, the Pope was worried that they would be spoiled and sent some monks to hide it somewhere they could find it afterwards.
The monks found the perfect cave near Sant Pere de Rodes, the location where the monastery is nowadays, and once they hid the relics they came back to Rome. Years later the Pope wanted the relics back, so he sent the monks to go find them to bring it back to Rome.
The monks arrived in Sant Pere but they couldn't find the cave, but they knew that the place was the right one, so they stayed for a while. In the end, they stayed forever and this is the first religious settlement in the location. Years passed and finally one day they found the cave, and the relics were inside. They wrote to the Pope, and he decided that this was a signal, and that the relics had to stay in Sant Pere de Rodes. Here is the beginning of Sant Pere as a monastery, a place for the benedict monks to gather.
From the time it was founded, it had the protection of the Counts of Empúries, that gave the monastery lands and power. It was a powerful monastery and controlled the area from Barcelona until Rousillon in France. From the 12th century to 14th century it was a very popular place for pilgrimage and had up to 250 inhabitants.
In 947 in Sant Pere de Rodes is where the place got its first abbott, Hildesind. From 1100 and during the 12th century the monastery was being restored and when different areas where built that we can see nowadays such as the new cloister and the galilea -the new door in the entrance- that was later on done by Mestre Cabestany, an important sculptor of the time. Some of the decorations done by Cabestany can still be seen in the museum Frederic Marès.
The cloister is very interesting, they started to built a very minimal cloister underground using the rock of the mountain but since the monastery started to grow, that one was not enough to show the power they had.
This is why now you can see two cloisters at different levels, the first one that is very minimal and a second one built on top at the floor level, where you can see beautiful capitals, there are only a few that still remain but it can be seen how it used to be. In the cloister is very visible two different ways of restoring buildings in Spain: the old ways, were to follow the same materials and structure as the old one, you couldn't tell what was new and what was the original piece. The new way of restoring is to keep the structure and visual effect but using materials that are clearly different to see what is from the original structure and what is not.
The monastery was very active until the XIV century, when it started the decadence, the monks started to relax on the community live and wanted some individuality, they even built single rooms for each of the monks when they have always shared a common room until that time.
Serious illnesses also started such as black death that took away 24 monks that lived in the monastery. The place started to be a target for thieves as well and they took part of the valuable goods, sculptures, decorations and others...
The monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes is not only famous for its incredible location and magnificent construction, the monks were also known to produce very good wine in the region.
If you look down the hill you can still see that the monks had vineyards in terraces in the mountain from where they extracted the grapes and produced wine. Sant Pere de Rodes says the legend that could have been a posible location for the Saint Grial around 1900.
The monks played an important role in creating fabulous wines during XI and XII centuries with the prior Pere de Nova who was known to have created a treatise about the subject. From what the guide told us, they even exported wine to other countries from Sant Pere.
Sant Pere de Rodes: Verdera Castle & Sant Helena Church
In the same complex of buildings in Sant Pere de Rodes, we can find Verdera Castle and Sant Helena Church, it is worth it to check them out.
Verdera Castle or also called Sant Salvador de Verdera is 1km far from the monastery and it is a medialt eval construction at 700m above the sea level. It is the highest peak in Serra de Rodes where you can see l'Alt Empordà, the Roses Golf, the Montgrí mountain range and the Medes islands.
Sant Helena Church's belongs to Port de la Selva and it is located in the medieval town of Santa Creu de Rodes, a 1km far from the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes.
A meal in the monastery
The monastery has an excellent restaurant inside that overlooks Port de la Selva and Cap de Creus. There is a daily menu at a good price, 15 euros per person that includes, starter, main, dessert water and bread. They have à la carte menu too and a special menu for 30 something euros per person.
We took the 15 euro menu per person and we were not disappointed, catalan cuisine and great meats, we had a gazpacho, I had a veal stew with wild mushrooms and veggies and Roger had melon with ham as a starter and as a main roasted knuckle with a mustard sauce, this one was spectacular.
From the restaurant you can see the vegetable garden the monks had at the time, so the restaurant connects with the inner soul of the monastery.
How to get to Sant Pere de Rodes:
My advice is to get there with your own transport, it is up on the hill and either by car or motorbike is the best option. The price per person to get in is 4, 50 euros and if you want to have a guided tour you need to add 3 euros per person on top. The guided tours are in catalan and spanish only.