* The authors are part of the community of La Vanguardia readers

The old monastery, now a parish church, centers the urban core of the small town of Sant Sebastià dels Gorgs, (Avinyonet del Penedès), in Alt Penedès, Barcelona, ​​located about 7 km from Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, and about 9 km from Vilafranca del Penedès. 

This monument, dating from the 11th century, is an old Benedictine monastery, declared a Cultural Asset of National Interest by the Generalitat of Catalonia in 2000. 

The complex is made up of the church with a single nave, with a chapel on the north side, the bell tower and a cloister of great sculptural beauty. Over time it has undergone various interventions to consolidate its conservation and make the monument available to citizens for their cultural use. 

The space offers the opportunity to enjoy a circuit around the monastery and church grounds to understand the context and historical evolution of the monument, and also brings us closer to the daily and organizational life that the Benedictine monks of medieval times lived in this architectural jewel. of the Penedès Romanesque.

The place of the Gorgs is mentioned for the first time in the year 976 in a donation of an allode in the monastery of Sant Cugat. The place name has its origin in the stream of the same name that runs near the monastery. 

The oldest news about Sant Sebastià is from the year 1024, when lands located in the Eramprunyà district, in Gavà (Baix Llobregat), were bequeathed to this church. 

A precious testimony of the existence of Sant Sebastià and the beginning of the monastic life is the testament of Ermengarda, daughter of Count Borrell II of Barcelona and mother of Mir Geribert, dictated in 1030. Ermengarda gave Sant Sebastià the vineyards she had in the Gorgs and other less important properties. 

Likewise, he ordered to sell their horses, colts, mules, pigs and wheat, bread, wine for the work of Sant Sebastià and for its consecration. He also left another six cows and half of the Ventallós alodio in the church of Sant Sebastià. 

The most relevant clause of this will is the one in which Ermengarda ordered that four monks be established in Sant Sebastià who, together with the clerics who lived, had the obligation to celebrate mass every day and pray matins and vespers, praying for the salvation of his soul.

The person in charge of carrying out Ermengarda’s latest provisions was his son, Mir Geribert, who can be considered the founder of the monastery. 

The “Prince of Olèrdola” took care of the endowment of the monastery, which became the family monastery where he and his descendants were to be buried. Mir Geribert’s sacramental testament of 1060, sworn precisely on the altar of Sant Martí in the church of Sant Sebastià dels Gorgs, is significant in this sense. 

The exact date of the consecration of the first church and the beginning of community life is unknown, but in any case the monastery was already functioning in 1043 when Abbot Miró and the rest of the monks sold Geribert and his wife a parcel of land in the term of Olèrdola. One of the signatories of this purchase-sale letter is Mir Geribert himself. 

In a short time Sant Sebastià became the main monastery of Penedès and the neighboring counties of Anoia and Baix Llobregat. This independent and brilliant beginning was not successful, since from 1052 Sant Sebastià became a priory.

Mir Geribert, to ensure the guardianship of a famous abbey and avoid usurpations of assets, decided to join the small monastery of Penedès to Sant Victor de Marseille, the center of irradiation of the Gregorian reform. 

The conversion of Sant Sebastià into a priory in Marseille was agreed in 1052 in an agreement between Mir Geribert, along with his wife Guisla, and Abbot Miró and the monks of Sant Victor. 

In this agreement, Abbot Miró appointed prior, after his death, Durand, a monk from Marseille, who with other companions of the same origin had already settled at that time in the Gorgs. 

In this same convenience, it was established that from that moment on the prior of San Miguel del Fai should recognize Miró as abbot, and thus close relations began with this Vallesan priory that lasted until the 14th century. In addition to Mir Geribert, five monks from Sant Sebastià signed the document: Guadall, Egenric, Ponç, Guillem and Signold. The final union took place in 1059, the date on which Abbot Miró had already died. Mir Geribert signed a pact with the abbot of Saint Victor of Marseille by which from that moment on the Provençal monks would possess the priory, observing the rule of Saint Benedict (it is a monastic rule that Benedict of Nursia wrote at the beginning of the 6th century, intended to monks. The book of precepts was written in the year 516 for monks who lived communally under the authority of an abbot). 

In the document it was made clear that Sant Sebastià would forever remain under the protection of Mir Geribert’s family, the Santmartí.

The essential endowment of the monastery was made up of the lands that surrounded it, the parish of San Pablo de Ordal and other accommodations scattered throughout the Penedès. In this sense, Ermengarda’s donation of 1030 formed the main block of the assets of Sant Sebastià. 

Years later, in 1069, Guisla, widow of Mir Geribert and lady of the castle of Santmartí, gave up a large property that included the church of San Valentín de Cabanyes for the sake of her soul and that of her husband. 

However, it does not seem that the priory came into possession of this temple, since in the 12th century it was bequeathed to the Hospitaller friars, who established an order for the order.

But the most important donation to Sant Sebastià, with the exception of the first one from Ermengarda, was made by Arnau Mir de Santmartí, son of Mir Geribert. In 1095 the parish of San Pablo de Ordal, from the castle of Subirats, was granted to the monastery. This legacy was confirmed shortly afterwards, in 1101, by the bishop of Barcelona. 

Despite this circumstance, the possession of the parish of San Pablo de Ordal was the subject of numerous lawsuits from that moment on between the priors of Sant Sebastià and the family of the castellans of the castle of Subirats who until the year 1095 had received part of tithes and other rights. 

The dispute lasted until 1147 with the recognition by the castle of Subirats of the domain of Sant Sebastià de los Gorgs over the Ordal. 

The incorporation of the parish of San Pablo del Ordal into the Penedès priory meant that it also came to possess the jurisdiction of the place, with all the corresponding seigneurial rights. 

Sant Sebastià was at the same time the owner of other scattered properties, among which we should highlight the Parellada dels Pòdols, under the road that went from the priory to Granada, the Malselliga farmhouses (les Gunyoles), a farmhouse in Avinyonet and other farmhouses. and alodios (regime of ownership of real estate, generally land, in which the owner has complete ownership) throughout the Penedès, especially in the castles of Subirats and Santmartí.

With the general crisis of the 14th century, Sant Sebastià seriously suffered a drop in its income, which was no longer very important. Thus, the crisis made it impossible to maintain the four beneficiary priests that the priory had at the beginning of the century. 

The reduction of the community was profound and in the middle of the 14th century only the prior, two monks and two beneficiaries remained. All this was a consequence of a terrible administration of the monastery’s assets (it is a monastic tradition that began in the most remote times of Christianity, which emphasizes life in common. 

It was characterized by monastic communitarianism, which preserved the isolation of the monks from the common society), and increasing indebtedness. The neglect and disorder of monastic life have been detected since the first years of the century. 

In a pastoral visit from 1310 it is stated that the only resident in Sant Sebastià was the prior. The rest of the monks lived outside. The situation of misgovernance continued until the priory of Guillem Marquès. He reduced the debts, rejected the rights of Sant Sebastià before the feudal lords and tried to improve the moral level of the monastic community. 

However, Sant Sebastià de los Gorgs failed to succeed again. Furthermore, since 1360 the position of prior was appointed by the order system and the last prior elected by Saint Victor of Marseille, Nicholas, Cardinal of Saint Sixtus, did not even visit the monastery.

This bitter stage of the priory did not end with the incorporation of Sant Sebastià de los Gorgs into the abbey of Montserrat. Effectively, by means of a papal bull of 1409, Benedict XIII separated the priory of Penedès from Marseille and joined it to Montserrat. 

This fact did not correct the fatal trends observed since the 14th century and the priory entered into total decline, all traces of community life disappeared, and the income that supported the three or four monks began to be received by the mother abbey. 

Sant Sebastià became a simple administration center for various properties in Montserrat, but led by a prior. From the 14th century and during the 15th and 16th centuries, the monastery buildings suffered great deterioration, despite the works carried out at the head of the church during the 14th century. 

In this way, the entire complex ended up in a ruinous state, as explained by the pastoral visits of the 16th century. The last important documented reforms date back to 1606, during the time of Prior Jaume Forner. 

Already in those years and until the exclaustration, Sant Sebastià had become a simple property that the priors rented to peasants from the region.

The definitive disappearance of the priory of Sant Sebastià de los Gorgs took place between 1821 and 1835. During the liberal trienio, Sant Sebastià was already auctioned off and acquired by private individuals. 

Despite the parenthesis of the last period of Ferdinand VII’s government, the former owners, Jaume Hugas and Josep Faiges, recovered the property in 1835, except for the church, which was considered an annex of the parish of Avinyonet and, from 1851, independent parish. 

The rehabilitation work on the monumental complex did not begin until much later. Since 1961, the Barcelona Provincial Council undertook several restoration campaigns of the old priory, especially between 1970 and 1974, and important works were carried out to consolidate the cloister and the bell tower. 

However, today there is still a long way to go to give the splendor that it deserves to this interesting building in Penedès.

The monastic complex of Sant Sebastià de los Gorgs, in its current state, is the result of the discovery and restoration work carried out by the Barcelona Provincial Council between 1971 and 1973, which revealed the structures of the monastery, very damaged and altered by the modifications that the monastery suffered as a result of its abandonment in the 19th century. 

The structures of the monastery are: the church, located to the north of the complex; the cloister, which centered the monastic quarters, attached to the south side of the church and partially invaded by a house that probably replaced old quarters, and the bell tower, a large tower attached to the southeast side of the church. 

The church is a building with a single nave facing east through a square apse, covered with a ribbed vault, with buttresses at the corners. It was built after 1380, in the reform process that the church underwent, and which also affected the entire northern part. 

It cannot be determined whether or not the pre-existing wall was used, since it is covered by plaster; On this wall there is a rectangular chapel covered with a barrel vault with a pointed profile, built between the buttress of the opening arch of the apse and the buttress of the pointed diaphragmatic arch that was built in the middle of the nave. 

The nave is covered with a brick vault, with a lowered profile, which hides the beam, supported by the diaphragmatic arches. The west façade is located in the place where there apparently should have been a second diaphragmatic arch.

It is on this west wall that the façade opens, with a lintel and sculpted tympanum, emphasized by an archivolt that starts from two imposts, which probably replace two columns that must have existed before the façade was removed from its original place, It was in 1606 according to the inscription that appears under the coat of arms of Montserrat, on the same cover.

The south wall is the part of the church in which most elements of the original building are preserved, before its transformation at the end of the 14th century. This wall goes beyond the west façade of the church until it reaches a corner, which marks the original place on the west façade where the door, moved in 1606, with the façade as a whole, must have been located. 

In the sector of this wall located inside the current church, five former arches are preserved, of small diameter, which start from two rectangular pilasters and corbels, forming two series of two and three arches between the pilasters. 

Inside the first series of arches, below the corbel that supports the two arches, there is a paired door, in a semicircular arch, and in the intrados of two other arches, two single-span windows open. 

Outside the church, on the same south wall, there is another door, smaller than the previous one and which, like that one, connects the church with the north gallery of the cloister.

The apparatus of this wall is made of ashlar, barely squared, arranged in very uniform and orderly courses, with more elaborate pieces in the formation of doors and windows. 

In the upper part of the façade, a part of the eaves is preserved, formed by two cantilevered pieces, supported by a frieze of simply molded corbels. 

On the contrary, the former arches added to the wall, and their pillars, are made of perfectly cut and polished ashlars. In fact, it seems very clear that the wall corresponds to the first construction phase of the church, dating to the first half of the 11th century. 

This first building underwent a first renovation consisting of the interior reinforcement of its walls with the former arches, surely designed to support a barrel vault, and still in a later phase the doorway had to be built, added to the west façade of the church. . 

There is no record of the structure of the apse of this church, replaced by the magnificent 14th century apse that is currently preserved, and on the other hand the position of the bell tower, attached to the south wall of the current apse, does not allow us to make too many hypotheses about it. the structure of the head of the original church.

The bell tower is a large tower, with a square floor plan, very wide, which is accessed from the apse of the church, with which it shares the wall. On this wall you can see a large discharge arch that is repeated on other walls in the lower part of the bell tower. 

Inside this lower part of the bell tower, covered with a barrel vault, with a semicircular profile, a double-flow window opens in the south wall, preserving two arcosolios, in a pointed arch, where there is still one of the sarcophagi, supported by six columns. 

Starting from the ground floor, the bell tower has lost all of its original east wall (with the two southeast and northeast corners), which was replaced, probably in the same process of reforms in the 14th century, by a blind wall with a mullioned window, at the first floor level, built with ashlars taken from the ruin of the original work that is preserved on the entire west façade and a good part of the north and south façades. 

The three facades present a similar composition, with a single level of windows in the highest third of the tower, formed by two twin windows, with central columns with sculpted capitals; The bases of these columns are only visible from the inside, since the windows have been reduced in height because the sill has been raised. 

The west façade presents a very important recess in the wall, which reaches the first floor and corresponds to the original structures of the complex; From here three lesenas start, one central and two that correspond to the corners, which go up to the windows, where they form two series of two Lombard arches that frame the arches of the windows above. 

The same composition is repeated on the south façade, where at the level of the first floor there is a continuous frieze of four Lombard arches, between the corner lesenas. 

The two arches located further west have been damaged by the opening of a door, made when the monastery was transformed into a masoveria, and the entire eastern angle was redone. 

On the north façade, above the back of the vault, the mullioned windows, lesenas and arches are visible, which form an identical composition to that of the other façades, with the corner damaged, as on the south façade.

The highest part of the bell tower has small windows, paired in the south and north walls, greatly altered by the renovation processes of the bell tower. It is not possible to specify what work process they correspond to or the extent of the transformations suffered by this part of the bell tower, given that the reforms were made using the materials from the collapsed eastern parts, and that is why there are no relevant differences in the facings. . 

These are built with a very careful and uniform apparatus, formed by very well cut and polished ashlars, with the singular parts, lesenas, arches, and the door that opens to the cloister, on the ground floor, voussoir and backsplash, worked with great care. Be careful when placing the pieces. 

As a whole, the bell tower of Sant Sebastià de los Gorgs reveals its general affiliation to Lombard models, interpreted with a compositional sense and a construction technique far removed from the early models of the style. 

It is worth highlighting the presence of the sculpture of the capitals and the careful work of its facings, which together with the analysis of its built environment indicate a dating towards the end of the 11th century; It is possible, therefore, that it coincided with the reform of the church, and with the initial work of the cloister.

It was probably towards the end of the 11th century that the Sant Sebastià bell tower was built. Capitals were placed in the twin windows that opened on each of the tower’s façades, some of which are still preserved in situ. They respond to the same construction and style and it can be said that they constitute a simplified version of the capital of caliphal tradition. The five preserved pieces are made of local limestone and were placed before finishing their ornamentation in the location that had been reserved for them. 

The emptying of the volumes was carried out, but the bevel-cut decoration remained unfinished on some faces of the pieces. Its style is distantly reminiscent of the capitals that embellish the interior of the Àger chancel, for which a date close to the last quarter of the 11th century has been proposed, since leaves for works are recorded in 1071. 

Both Àger’s pieces and ours coincide in format and ornamentation, which has been resolved using stylized plant-type motifs cut with a bevel. In some points it has been worked with a deep drill.

Three of these capitals are still preserved in the bell tower windows; a new one, quite damaged, is integrated into the western gallery of the cloister and a last one, almost unidentifiable, remained for a long time in the patio. 

In all cases, the original acanthus leaves have been stylized to the maximum. Four stand out in the lower part of the capital and some of them have been decorated with a series of incisions, both at the top and on both sides. 

In the intermediate zone there always appears a type of rosette of variable format (in some cases circular, in others square). In reality, it is another schematization of the leaves that occupy the upper part of the caliphal capitals. 

As a whole, the plant ornamentation is so geometricized that the result becomes almost an abstraction. Some incisions at the top of the capital can evoke bundles of leaves. 

In other cases, the leaves can rotate on themselves at the ends, complicating the initial simplicity of the ornamental motif. The work with a deep drill runs along the limits of each face of the capital although, as has been noted, some of them have no decoration.

The cloister, located at the south of the church, presents a very complex and extremely interesting structure, in part due to its lengthy construction process, with many questions generated by the destruction it has suffered, especially on its south and west sides, due to the construction. of a house that occupies the entire southern sector of the complex. 

The porch of the west gallery is largely incorporated within this building, and has been made visible by opening a passage inside. 

The preserved galleries (the north one, the west one and part of the east one) have completely lost their covers, safely resolved with a wooden beam structure. 

The western gallery presents many questions on its closing wall that prevent us from specifying the exact scope of its structures and the probable relationship with the building attached to the west corner of the monastic complex.

As for the cloister, the eastern gallery is made up of three semicircular arches, which start from four capitals that top three pilasters and a column. The three arches are followed on both sides by a rosary of pearls and diamond tips. 

All the capitals were carved, but they are quite simple to execute. Two of them show essentially geometric decoration and, except for one of the pieces, the rest have only been worked on three of the four sides. The capital located at the end of the gallery and attached to the pilaster, next to the north wing, has a geometric decoration. 

A double zigzag border runs along its entire perimeter and it is all worked with incisions perpendicular to the direction of the molding. At the top of the capital you can see a small rosette also carved with incisions; A collar delimits it in the lower part. 

The second capital, arranged under a very flattened top that is decorated with checkerboarding, is free. It is adorned by four pairs of griffins facing each other and turning around while biting each other’s wings. This is a very common and repeated theme during the Romanesque period, which appears here according to a formula that the Roussillon workshops helped to disseminate. 

Let us remember that the same composition presides over a new capital currently used in the Masía de Can Sardà, in Ferran, and that some authors have hypothetically linked it to the Gorgs. The third capital again presents a figurative theme. These are two bearded human figures that are devoured by two animals that ride on their shoulders. 

The theme is directly linked to that of lions or gastrocephalic monsters, which had great fortune during the Romanesque as an image of the destiny of sinners and was present on so many facades: Santa María de la Seu d’Urgell, Covet, Sant Pere de Besalú, etc.

The last capital of the gallery is worked on only three of its faces. The decoration is located in the upper area and is made up of five diamond points. Both of the angles are larger than the rest and become a type of simplified reminder of the genuine scrolls. Some capitals in the cloisters of Sant Pau del Camp adopt a similar solution. 

It is possible to attribute to that same sculptural moment a new capital that has remained abandoned for a long time in the cloister patio. 

The piece was ornamented on all its faces and is made up of a kind of volutes, located at the top of the vertices, which arise from nerves that can be seen emerging from the middle area of ​​the capital. We are looking at a very schematic plant ornamentation that apparently was very pleasing to the sculptor of the Gorgs.

It is a parallelepiped sarcophagus measuring 140 x 58 cm at the base and 41 cm high. The lid is double-sided and has a height of 21 cm. It is made from a monolithic block of low-quality limestone. It does not present any type of decoration. It is supported by four twin columns of fairly simple construction with abacuses, capitals, smooth shafts and bocel-type bases. 

The two capitals on the front have a simple decoration on the front. The one on the right has a pine cone-shaped relief in the upper corners and the one on the left has pine cones in the corners and an ogival coat of arms with the motto of a bell. 

The decoration is complemented by two floral motifs reminiscent of the fleur-de-lis placed on both sides of the shield. Modernly, next to the columns on the right, a small reinforcing wall was built. 

On the front of the bear house there is a modern inscription made by the monk Agustí Bragado, who was prior of Sant Sebastià at the end of the 18th century. He says like this: “Fray Gustin Bragao Ayudo de Cantillas, prior of this priory. It opened in 1785. And in them I found nothing but several skulls and bones.” 

This sarcophagus is attached to one of the walls of the current sacristy in the lower part of the bell tower. It is believed that this chamber had originally been intended as the pantheon of the lords of Subirats.

Sarcophagus in the shape of a parallelepipedic box measuring 150 x 48 cm at the base and 41 cm high. The lid is double-sided and has a height of 30 cm. It is built with grayish-white marble slabs of different sizes with dark veins. The side of the currently visible bear is made up of five slabs and the lid of six. Inside, the joints of these pieces were lined with lead. 

The sarcophagus, completely smooth, is supported by six columns with undecorated capitals, smooth shafts and bocel-type bases. Does not present any registration. It is located in a chamber currently used as a sacristy and which corresponds to the ground floor of the bell tower within an arcosoleo with a Gothic stone archway. 

According to A. Pladevall, this unit could have originally been intended as the pantheon of the lords of Subirats. Sepulcher cleared in a single piece stone, 1.29 m long by 0.55 m wide and 0.45 m high. On the front there is a relief roughly representing a soul in the form of a human figure emerging, carried by angels, from a tomb. 

The angels are six in number, three on each side, two that help climb it and the others purely decorative. The composition is ingenious but crudely performed. It makes one think of a previous model interpreted in a bad way. All figures are deformed. 

The right end is completely smooth and the left has the inscription of the name of Arnau de Vilanova and a powerful cross in the middle, with arms that widen. It doesn’t have a cover. This is Manuel Trens’ description of the sarcophagus when he arrived at the Diocesan Museum of Barcelona. 

The provenance of the sarcophagus of Sant Sebastià de les Gorgs is doubted because in previous inventories, such as the one made in the time of Bishop Jaume Català i Albosa (1883-1899), mention is made of the two Gothic sarcophaguses described in, smooth and without visible ornamentation . 

It is also described by the hiker Guillem Tell i Lafont (1883) and also by Artur Osona, in 1890. Taking into account that the Diocesan Museum was inaugurated in 1916, more than 30 years after the visits, and that the description made by Manuel Trens is 1920, the origin of the sarcophagus of Arnau de Vilanova is questioned.