Monday, 15 October 2018

La Cartuja of Jerez, its Bodega and Horses

La Cartuja, or to give it its full name, El Monasterio Cartujano de Santa María de la Defensión, was founded in 1476 at the behest of the pious knight Álvaro Obertos de Valeto, (who was distantly related to Innocent IV, the Pope who authorised the torture of heretics by the Holy Inquisition). Don Álvaro, a bachelor, gave all his wealth to the Cartuja of Sevilla so that they might create one in Jerez. The story goes that on looking for a site, Don Álvaro and priors from the Cartuja de Sevilla were on the spot where the Jerez Cartuja now stands when they met an old man who told them this was the place. They believed he was none other than St. Peter, and since there had been an old hermitage on the site, this would be the place. It is thought that somewhere near here the Battle of Guadalete was fought in which the Moors defeated the Gothic King Rodrigo in 711 or 712, gaining a decisive foothold in Spain and changing its history.

The Carthusian monks bought, for what was regarded as a hefty sum of 90 Maravedís (the currency at the time), land which included vineyard, woods, an olive grove and a dovecot, and they lived in humble dwellings on their land until construction, which began in 1478, was complete. Various extensions and revisions were carried out up till the XVIII century and the architecture, while mixed, is magnificent. It was declared a Historic and Artistic Monument in 1856. The building is located about 4 km outside Jerez at the side of the southeast approach to the city, overlooking the flood plain of the river Guadalete and the lovely old bridge, the Puente de la Cartuja, construction of which was completed in 1541. 

An old tinted engraving of the Cartuja

By now the Monastery owned some 55 aranzadas (@ 20 hectares) of vineyard, including two plots of 15 aranzadas (7 hectares) and 25 aranzadas (11 hectares) in the pago Macharnudo. By 1620 the monks also owned vineyard in the pago Montealegre not to mention various orchards, olive groves, houses which were rented out, and cortijos where they grew wheat and other crops. These properties and vineyard holdings were largely gifted to the monks, and the Cartuja became very rich. It had its own stone-built low-roofed bodega, typical of the time but large enough to accommodate 1,000 butts of wine; more than enough for their production. 

The bodega in disrepair, from Vizetelly, 1876

Being well educated, monks did much over the centuries to develop viticulture and founded many of the world’s famous vineyards. Naturally they did not confine themselves only to prayer and winemaking, and another activity was the breeding of horses, for which they established the stud La Yeguada de la Cartuja which survives to this day. The horse has existed in Spain for millennia and the Moors recognised the qualities of the Andalusian breed which has been improved ever since into a versatile and beautiful creature. One of the most respected breeds is the Cartujano.

A list of the monks´possessions dated 1620

The monks in Jerez prospered until 1835 when their Monastery was expropriated by the State in what was known as the Desamortización de Godoy, by which the State confiscated land and property, much belonging to the Church and the Monastic Orders, and resold it to boost its coffers after the loss of most of the Colonies. The Cartuja was consequently abandoned by the monks, who would not occupy it again till a brief period between 1948 and 2001. They are only occasionally there now, but there are regular masses. There are regular visiting times if you want to visit.

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