Nuestra Señora de la Soterraña

Nuestra Señora de la Soterraña Spanish pronunciation: [nwestɾa seɲoɾa de la soteraɲa] (Spanish for Our Lady of Soterraña) is a Gothic church and monastery located at Santa María la Real de Nieva, Province of Segovia, Spain. It was built between late 14th and early 15th centuries.

Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de la Soterraña
AffiliationRoman Catholic
DistrictDiocese of Segovia
ProvinceProvince of Segovia
StatusActive (as church)
LocationSanta María la Real de Nieva, Spain
Geographic coordinates41°04′13″N 4°24′23″W / 41.070139°N 4.406472°W / 41.070139; -4.406472Coordinates: 41°04′13″N 4°24′23″W / 41.070139°N 4.406472°W / 41.070139; -4.406472
Direction of façadeNorth

In 1920, two of its elements, the facade and the cloister, were designated as national monuments.[1] Its present designation is Bien de Interés Cultural.[2]


View of northern church front.
View from Main Square.

In 1392, a wooden sculpture of Mary was discovered buried, probably hidden since Muslim invasion, in a piece of open ground at the municipality of Nieva, where the village of Santa María de Nieva sits now.[3] This fact was considered a miracle, and the Queen Catherine of Lancaster ordered the building of a sanctuary there and a village around it, to the worship of that Virgin's image,[3][4] called Soterraña, an old Spanish word that means 'subterranean'.[5] She did it against the opinions of the priest of Nieva, that wanted to bring the image to his village, and nobility of Segovia that preferred moving it to the town.[4] However, the Queen acquired two papal bulls from Clement VII, in February 1393, to release the sanctuary from the Nieva's priest jurisdiction,[4] and getting indulgences for the visitors in certain days.[4]

Present Our Lady of Soterraña image, the original one burned at 19th century.

Original church construction (1393-1399)Edit

The Queen Catherine defrayed a large part of the building with Crown funds, many worshipers also contributed with their own money for the works, and these contributions were increased by two new bulls of Pope Benedict XII, in 1395, giving indulgences whom give money to the construction.[6]

The original church was rectangular, divided in three naves, and faced towards East as was traditional in that time. The every day door was at northern wall, and there was another door at western wall used just on holy days.

On February 2, 1399 at Toledo, the Queen gave the custody of the image and the temple to the Dominican Order, that officially accepted it in September 7.[7]

Enlargement (1414-1432)Edit

Southern corridor of the cloister.
Apse added during the enlargement.

In 1395, Santa María la Real de Nieva village had been found by Royal order.[8] The amount of inhabitants grew quickly, as the number of visitor. So that was the reason to do an enlargement. Works started on January 23, 1414, and ended in 1432. These dates are known by three inscriptions located in church transept columns. In this extension of the church, it was added another nave with a transept and an apse, in parallel with the construction of the monastery attached.

The Queen Catherine of Lancaster sponsored these works until her death in 1418. Her son the King John II of Castile continued this task.[9] The next Popes, Clement VII, Benedict XIII of Avignon, and Martin V, also contributed giving indulgences whom donate money for the building; and the last one gave 500 florins of his own fund in 1425.[9]


On April 1, 1441, the Queen Blanche I of Navarre was passing by the village in her way to a meeting with Prince Henry, his father the King John II of Castile, and the King John II of Aragon, when the Queen died, being buried at Nuetra Señora de la Soterraña church's main chapel. Her body stayed there, despite of her last will of resting in Ujué.[10][11] With time, her location was forgotten until the tomb was discovered during restoration works in 1994.[12][13]

On October 28, 1473, King Henry IV called a meeting of the Courts of Castile at Our Lady of Soterraña monastery.[14]

After Ecclesiastical Confiscations of Mendizábal, monks left the monastery, and its property was divided between Segovia bishopric and Santa María la Real de Nieva's Town Hall.[15]

In late 19th century, the monument suffered two fires. The first one, in 1899, affected the southern wing of the monastery and the second was at the high altar of the church.[15][16]

The monument has been restored a number of times, the façade in 1927, and the cloister in 1929, 1954, and 1976.[17]


Building plan; church (blue) and monastery (red).

The church was built following early 15th-century Gothic structure canons in Spain. Its decorative style has been described as archaic,[18] because it is influenced by Romanesque art that was present in the Kingdom of Castile until the late 14th century.

The main body of the church consists of three naves, the middle one being wider and higher than side ones. This structure fits in with original church. Its slate masonry walls have granite ashlar foundations and corners. However, inside columns were built using bricks. In the middle, there is a small cave where the Virgin's image was found.

Church transept

Later, another nave, with a transept and one apse with two side chapels, was added. This new part was totally built with ashlar walls. There are mason's marks of 22 different workshops in its walls,[19] that indicates the large number of workers used in the construction. When this part was ended, the old east wall in between was demolished to incorporate the new nave in the building.

In the back central nave, there is a second floor, where is located the corus and its walls are covered with beautiful carved wooden chairs. The ceiling under the corus place is decorated with a mudéjar wooden coffer.

There is a mural painting of Saint Christopher carrying child Jesus in the southern wing, discovered during a restoration in 1997.


Gothic church facade

The most notable church's element is the facade, in the northern wall, opened just under the transept, that is designated as bien de interés cultural itself. It was made in Gothic style with many reliefs and sculptures. It is divided in two bands with an ogival arch. In the upper part, there is a tympanum with an entrenched Christ image, in between two currently beheaded figures, probably the King and Queen that sponsored the building, and two angels. Above, there are the Sun and the Moon, representing the Universe and angels on clouds.

The tympanum is surrounded by five archivolts that depict, from outside to inside:

The lintel over the door had three carved slabs, but the central that depicted Last Judgment is lost. The right slab depicts the Hell in whose fish mouth-shaped entrance is going in a person. The left one depicts the Heaven with Saint Peter in its gate receiving another person. This slabs are held with two corbels with allegorical figures. The left one is a griffin, as symbol of evil, carrying a hare, that represents the sin. And the right cobel is lion-shaped, as symbol of goodness, protecting a naked woman with its paws, that depicts the concupiscence.

Under the facade arch, there are many scenes depicting the Passion.


Cloister view from bell tower.

All the monastery rooms are placed around its cloister and are open to it. In the eastern wing, there are a chapter house, currently used as exhibition room; and the Queen's dormitory, in the second floor, that is a library at present. In the southern wing, there is the Court Hall, where the King Henry IV called a meeting of the Courts of Castile in 1473; next to the refectory. Under the refectory, there is a subterranean warehouse.

There was a fire in the southern wing of old monastery on December 6, 1899, that destroyed some of the old rooms, like another smaller cloister, the library, stables and barns,[15] that were not reconstructed, and later, that piece of land was sold.

Arches of the cloister southern corner.
Every cloister capital is decorated in a different way.


The cloister plan is almost square, and is attached to the church by its southern wall, where there is a door that connects both sides. The cloister probably was built simultaneously with church enlargement works, as indicates coincident mason's marks carved in their stones.

There are 17 piers raised on one-yard high limestone ashlar walls. Between each pair of piers, there are groups of 3, 4 or 5 ogival arches, a total of 68. There is no wall in the south-western corner forming a pair of three arch gates to access into the central garden.

The cloister structure is held by 11 big buttresses and two smaller ones more placed in its entrance.

Each column is carved in a sole piece as two cylinder linked by a bevel withstanding a capital decorated with reliefs. Every capital is decorated in a different way. Unlike the facade, cloister capitals have very few biblical depictions. The main themes used in their decoration are scenes of Middle Age monks and people way of life, nature, monsters, and coats of arms.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ (in Spanish) R.O. Education and Arts Ministry of Spain, June 19, published in the official bulletin in June 24, 1920.
  2. ^ (in Spanish) Registration as Bien de Interés Cultural in Culture Ministry of Spain.
  3. ^ a b (in Spanish) Antonio Miguel Yurami y Antonio Sánchez Sierra (1995), Historia de la aparición de la taumaturga ymagen de nuestra Señora la Soterraña de Nieva. P. 48.
  4. ^ a b c d Antonio Miguel Yurami y Antonio Sánchez Sierra (1995), Historia de la aparición de la taumaturga ymagen de nuestra Señora la Soterraña de Nieva. pp. 59-66.
  5. ^ (in Spanish) Soterraño Royal Spanish Academy's dicctionary.
  6. ^ National History Archive of Spain Sec. Clerecy. File 1951. Documents 12 and 13.
  7. ^ A. M. Yurami p. 71
  8. ^ A. M. Yurami p. 63
  9. ^ a b (in Spanish) A. Sánchez Sierra p. 43
  10. ^ (in Spanish) Enrique Flórez (1751), Memorias de las reinas católicas de España p. 725
  11. ^ (in Spanish) Nerea Alejos. Ujué, fortaleza de devoción en el Diario de Navarra.
  12. ^ (in Spanish) Felipe Molinero Rodríguez’s article. Los restos de Blanca de Navarra descansan en la iglesia parroquial in El Norte de Castilla online.
  13. ^ A. M. Yurami p. 294
  14. ^ (in Spanish) Carlos Arnanz Ruiz, (1972) Santa Mª. la real de Nieva. Edited by the Town Hall.
  15. ^ a b c (in Spanish) Monasterie guide p.150
  16. ^ A.M. Sánchez Sierra p. 144
  17. ^ A. M. Sánchez Sierra p. 145.
  18. ^ Antonio Sánchez Sierra (1992), p. 62
  19. ^ Monastery guide p. 87


  • (in Spanish) Antonio Sánchez Sierra (1992), El monasterio de Santa María la Real de Nieva. ISBN 84-7231-802-8
  • (in Spanish) A. Sánchez Sierra y A. R. Esteban, Guía del Monasterio de Santa María la Real de Nieva. Ed. Palgraf S. L.
  • (in Spanish) A. M. Yurami y A. Sánchez Sierra (1995), Historia de la Aparición de la Taumaturga Ymagen de nuestra Señora de la Soterraña de Nieva. ISBN 84-605-3511-8
  • (in Spanish) Carlos Arnaz Ruiz (1972), Santa Mª la Real de Nieva. Ed. Ayuntamiento de Sª Mª la Real de Nieva.

External linksEdit