Santa María de Valvanera: the Origins, the Legendary Founders
and the Ethos of a Northern Spanish Monastery
The genre of the monastic exordium exists as a half-way house between the writing of history and hagiography. In the present example from the Riojan house of Santa María de Valvanera, the Istoria fundationis Sancte Marie de Vallis Venarie, further complications arise: the narration is extant only in a fifteenth-century Latin translation of a thirteenth-century vernacular source, already distant by over a century from the events which it purported to narrate; and the narration – if approached as strict history – displays a number of symbolic elements (both Christian and possibly pagan) and of contradictions with other parts of the monastery’s written record. These conflicting stories, rather than completely disallowing the Istoria’s narration, allow us to grasp how the medieval monastery understood itself, and to perceive the exordium not as a sequence of half-formed hagiographies of little historical value, but rather as a means of specifying the spiritual ethos of the monastery itself.