Academic seeks origin of mysterious Spanish cloister

Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:50pm EDT
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By Emma Pinedo

PALAMOS, Spain (Reuters) - Could a poolside folly at a private Mediterranean resort in Spain owned by a reclusive German billionaire actually be a 12th century architectural treasure spirited away from its original home?

This is the historical mystery being unraveled by a medieval art expert who has been investigating a cloister that has stood since 1958 on a northeastern Spanish estate owned by wealthy German philanthropist Curt Engelhorn and his family.

Gerona University Medieval Art History Professor Gerardo Boto believes the cloister, now nestled in a pine forest on the estate in Palamos, some 120 km north of Barcelona in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia, could be the remains of a romanesque monastery that was originally built several hundred miles away in the central region of Castilla y León.

"If its authenticity is confirmed, that could help us rewrite a few aspects about Spanish romanesque," Boto told Reuters on his first visit to the cloister.

The two remaining sides of the cloister with their intricate, pale golden arches sit next to a pool near a 200 year-old Catalan farmhouse, or "masia".

Boto said the cloister was reminiscent of Santo Domingo de Silos, a Benedictine monastery in Castilla y León's northern province of Burgos. The monastery is one of the best examples of romanesque architecture in Spain and its cloister, a secluded quadrangle flanked by archways on its inner side, is one of the most superbly preserved.

"This is as if we were gazing at the oldest son of Silos," Boto said, gazing at the Palamos cloister on a visit accompanied by the press.

A group of experts from Catalonia's regional government have also visited the site recently and are expected to determine in the coming weeks whether the cloister really is an original 12th century gem that has been dismantled twice and trucked across the country for reassembly first in Madrid and then Palamos.   Continued...

Professor of medieval art history at Girona University Gerardo Boto looks at the Romanesque cloister from the 12th century in a private property in Palamos in this June 8, 2012 file photo. The media was granted access, for the first time, to the 12th century Romanesque cloister, sold by a Madrid antique dealer to its actual owner more than 50 years ago. Catalonia regional technicians and archaeologists are now studying the importance of the finding, compared to the cloister in Santo Domingo de Silos, in the province of Burgos, and considered the most important example of Spanish Romanesque architecture. Picture taken June 8, 2012. REUTERS/ Albert Gea/Files