About 5 km East-Southeast of Cariñena sits the ruins of the Santa Catalina del Monte convent that was built in about 1425. This Franciscan convent played an important role in the area for the church as well as the local population due to its extensive library and the hospice it supported in town. During the Spanish War of Independence, the convent was abandoned and then destroyed by the French in 1808.
The convent is important to our family because there are many references to family members having been buried there, although exactly where at the convent remains unclear, but perhaps in the floor of the chapel on the site. An example entry appears below:
Here’s Sean checking out the ruins during our trip:
The vineyards approach the convent from all directions and there’s this feeling that everyone has forgotten about the place. There are no signs, no fences, no headstones, and it is unclear exactly how the facility was laid out. Additional research is on my to-do list, especially investigating the rumor that a tunnel runs from the convent to the parish church in Cariñena!
Recently, a friend flew his drone over the ruins and sent it to me:
Your trip to Cariñena should include a stop at the convent – it’s quite a feeling to be standing there, seeing Cariñena in the distance.
23 days. Dozens (?) of glasses of Garnacha. 1100 photos of family records. 1200 miles on the roads. One convent, two churches, and a wedding. A million smiles. And so much more.
I’ve been meaning to sit and write this quick note but it’s gotten away from me. Patrick, Sean, and I headed out in late June for Reagan National airport and some 24 days later we returned. In between were some incredible days exploring Cariñena, Zaragoza, Madrid, Porto and the roads in between.
I’ll get to the point: I have hundreds of records to sort, catalog, and transcribe. I will save you a bit of mystery: it looks like our oldest Velez ancestor came to Cariñena from Madrid in about 1680. And I managed to get enough records that I should be able to document the entire Velez family from then until recently. Yes, we have cousins in Cariñena!
So stay tuned as I update the records and family tree information. In the mean time, enjoy some photos from our trip this past summer!
You, too, can visit Cariñena and walk the streets, drink the wine, enjoy the food, and celebrate La Fiestas with just a little preparation.
When should you go?
You really want to visit during one of the annual fiestas when there’s music, wine, food, bulls, and other cultural activities are happening. Visit the official web page of the town hall and follow the links to the details on the las fiestas:
Fiesta de San Valero – 29 January celebrating the patron saint San Valero
Romería a la Virgen de Lagunas – On Easter Monday this fiesta celebrates a nearby sanctuary with a procession through the city
Fiesta de San Isidro – Celebrated on the Sunday closest to 15 May with traditional dress
Fiesta de San Cristóbal – Celebrated in July but the actual dates of this lively 3-day fiesta can vary from year to year
Fiesta del Santo Cristo de Santiago – is a week-long fiesta with a focal point on 14 September. This mind-numbing fiesta is celebrated all day and all night for a week with parades, music, food, bull fights, bulls running in the streets, and celebrations at the churches
Fiesta de la Vendimia – is a weekend event conducted by the local wine industry celebrating the grape harvest and, to the outsider, can be confused with the Fiesta del Santo Cristo de Santiago because it frequently is celebrated a week before or a week after that fiesta. All the vineyards have special events and tents of wine surround the city. The fountain at the town hall is filled with red wine!
How do you get there?
You can fly to Madrid and rent a car and drive northeast 3 hours. Or you can fly to Barcelona and drive west for 3 hours (Madrid is a little closer). Both airports have high-speed trains running through Cariñena and nearby Zaragoza does have an airport served by several airlines. I rented a car at Avis at the airport in Madrid for 3 weeks and paid about $400.
Where should you stay?
There are two hotels in Cariñena (I haven’t stayed at either) but there’s a wonderful Airbnb host with two spacious condos on Calle Mayor less than 100 yards from the town square and fountain.
Ana Cristina operates Casa Pallarés which easily sleeps 7 guests in 4 bedrooms (6 beds) and 2 baths. The full size kitchen is well-stocked, there’s a living room, and clothes washer (a window in a utility room gives you access to a clothes line). A balcony gives you a perfect view of the bulls running up and down the street or you can quietly enjoy your glass of wine.
Ane Cristina has a second condo on the top floor which is a little more modern and has some great views from the many windows, but there’s no balcony. This one sleeps 6 guests in 3 bedrooms (5 beds) and 1 bath.
Bottom line: stay in the middle of town and enjoy the quick walk to every restaurant, bar, grocery store, and church! Ana Cristina is an incredible host who will make every effort to ensure you have a great visit.
How long should you stay?
We visited for 4 days of La Fiesta de Santo Cristo de Santiago on our first trip. It wasn’t enough for me because I wanted to spend days in the church archives doing family research.
My second trip was 3 weeks long. That was awesome. For many of you that is probably too long unless you’re continuing my family research and scouring records or hunting relatives. Cariñena reminds me a lot of visiting Denver, Colorado: a big mountain to the west, and a high-desert plain that isn’t terribly attractive unless you’re seeking that terrain.
However, a couple of hours travel in each direction can take you to beautiful sandy beaches or luscious green mountains. Los Mallos, above, is about 90 minutes north. There is a lot to see in Spain and, frankly, the boys preferred the buzzing metropolis of Zaragoza, just 20 minutes north, with its busy streets, beautiful sights, amusement parks, malls, and the other things they wanted to see and do. They won’t understand why I preferred staying on Calle Mayor until many years from now.
So pick a fiesta and spend a few days in the village. See the church where our ancestors were baptised and married. See the ruins of the Franciscan convent. Stop in and tour the many bodegas and sample their wines. Visit the nearby towns, especially Muel, and shop their stores while exploring their incredible forts and ruins. Plan to spend a couple of days in Zaragoza and then see other parts of Spain. Go to Madrid or Salamanca! Head to the beaches!