Monastery of Santa Catalina (ZARAGOZA)
On the street of the architect Magdalena is the Monastery of Poor Claires or the Minor Order of Santa Catalina, the oldest female convent in Zaragoza. Diego de Espés informs us that in the times of the King Jaime I and the Bishop Santos Ahones, a noblewoman of great lineage and principal Lady named Doña Ermisenda de las Celles, aunt of Doña Teresa Gil de Vidaurre, wife of the conquistador King, founded a Convent of nuns of the Order of San Damián under the avocation of Santa Catalina, next to the Monastery of Saint Engracia, then under the Benedictine order.
We know that on the date of April 19,1234, Pope Gregory IX granted the bull “Virtutem Sibi to the Lady Doña Ermisenda de las Celles, exhorting her to found a Convent under the order of San Damián in the city of Zaragoza, endowing her with such funds as to maintain at least twenty nuns there. The convent’s dedication to Santa Catalina was due to a hermitage dedicated to this saint, built outside the city walls, that would provide the site for the Convent. The family relationship of this noble lady and King Jaime I put this convent under royal protection from its inception.
Only a part of the church remains from the early 14th century construction in a magnificent Mudéjar style after the disappearance of all its ancient monastic dependences. It was badly damaged during the siege of Zaragoza in 1808, and finished off at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century, with the demolition of everything standing for urbanization motives. At this point, the magnificent cupola was destroyed, one of the few dependencies that had survived the Napoleonic wars.
On the exterior, the only thing visible is the side facing the calle Arquitecto Magdalena, and the left side façade, which contains a simple modern access portal. The side chapels between the buttresses are visible; they are part of 17th century reforms.
On the interior, the church has a single-nave plan, with chapels between the buttresses, both around the nave and the apse, and a choir at the foot.
The present distribution of the chapels is somewhat irregular. Of the five sides of the apse, the four lateral ones contain some other chapels that preserve their original structure with pointed arches. The chapels in the two nave bays, two to a side, were reformed in 1645; they have rounded arches.
The apse and the first bay of the crossing retain their original 14th century vaulting.
The second bay has the same covering, except that here the 17th century reforms resulted in the remodeling of the ribs. The bay at the foot has pointed barrel vaulting divided in half by a plaster pointed arch.
The ribs of the Mudéjar vaulting are triple, and rest on pyramidal trunk capitals over engaged columns. The lower choir is accessed through a big elongated arch.
Of the chapels in the apse, the two nearest the retablo mayor seem to be quite shallow and are occupied by some altars. Of the two exterior ones, the one on the left is covered by simple groin vaulting, like the nave and apse. The one on the right is closed because of the closure of the order, although it seems to also preserve its original vaulting.