Sant Miquel del Fai. Cingles de Bertí Natural Area


Heritage of Sant Miquel del Fai

Highly-unique movable assets have been located in Sant Miquel del Fai, studied by specialists in medieval, Renaissance and Baroque heritage. The items of artistic and historical importance represent different periods in the history of the monastery. Some of the architectural elements have been catalogued as Items of National Cultural Interest (BCIN). 

© Iñaki Relanzón

Casa Prioral. Autor: Iñaki Relanzón

© Iñaki Relanzón

Declared a Site of National Cultural Interest by the Generalitat de Catalunya. In the year 997 Count Borrell and Countess Ermessenda granted the house-church of Sant Miquel, within the boundaries of Montbui castle, to the nobleman Gombau de Besora so he could build a monastery there. In 1006 the church, together with a portion of land and the cave, was finally granted as an allodial property in order to build the monastery house. Gombau united the monastery of Sant Miquel and the monastery of Sant Victor de Marseille in 1042. The Priory was secularised in 1567 and joined to the minor archdeacon of the see of Girona. In 1832 it became the property of the owners of the Torras farmhouse in Sant Quirze de Safaja, who were its leaseholders, and the Priory was abolished.

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Orsa dels segles dotze-tretze. Autor: Joan Pujol-Creus

© Joan Pujol-Creus


A ceramic container used as a lipsanotheca, a type of reliquary. This is a unique piece, as few have been found in the Peninsula. It is decorated with plant motifs and with Kufic inscriptions that relate it to other Almohad productions. It was located in 1991 at the base of the high altar of the church and contained a fragment of a tibia, whose current location is unknown.

The milky white enamel that decorates is uniform and fine, on top of which the gold decoration with metallic reflection was applied. The piece is in a good state of conservation, although the gilding has been almost entirely lost. The engraved decoration, interspersed with plant motifs, is located on the body and was made with a mould.

According to archaeological studies, we can relate this piece to the manufacture of gilded pottery and relief decoration that was produced in Almeria from the 12th century. This is demonstrated by singularities such as the reddish gold reflection from where the relief protrudes or the shapes with globular bodies, cylindrical necks and annular feet, as is our case. In addition, it is common in Almeria to find decoration with bands or horizontal markings, with themes ranging from geometric, phytomorphic or engravings. These connections could prove that the specimen from Sant Miquel del Fai was an import from Almeria.

It is clear that the container was reused as a lipsanotheca at an undetermined date. This implies the possibility of a new consecration of the high altar of the temple at the beginning of the 13th century, of which there is no documentary evidence, in which this Almohad vessel could be used due to its luxurious aspect and be considered worthy of containing holy relics. 

Moving to the second half of the 16th century, when it seems that a major renovation was carried out in the church, as indicated in the vaults of the presbytery, the style of the central keystone, the triumphal arch and the pillars, the late Romanesque altar had to be dismantled and, perhaps, the lipsanotheca had to be located, in a sign of respect and veneration, at the base of the new altar built at that time.

In any case, all this is no more than a hypothesis that will be difficult to corroborate.

Capbreu de Sant Miquel del Fai. Autor: Joan Pujol-Creus

© Joan Pujol-Creus

In December 2018 Barcelona Provincial Council acquired the Capbreu of the Benedictine monastery of Sant Miquel del Fai, a document dating from the 14th century and of great historical importance. More information and the video of its restoration.

Stone relief, in Sant Miquel del Fai Church © Xarxa de Parcs Naturals

This stone relief, 62cm x 75cm, is a tombstone attached to the wall of  Sant Miquel del Fai Church. It belongs to Andreu Arbizu, the last Benedictine monk of the monastery. 

It depicts two nude winged angels with an aureole on their heads, who with ropes hold up a triumphal crown of laurel or garland of braided foliage. Inside is a heraldry of two wolves with eight blades from the Arbizu shield. The polychrome of the tombstone is not the original. On a formal level, it is a sculptural work typical of the early Renaissance in Catalonia. 

According to the inscription, it is a tombstone: IC IACET FRATER ANDREAS DE ARBIÇU M / ONECUS VIVS DOM(us) ROGO VOS ORETIS PR / O EO. 
Translation: "Here rests brother Andreu de Arbizu, monk of this house, I ask you to pray for this reason". 

Thanks to the capbreu of 1588, we know that Andreu d'Arbizu was a member of a noble and wealthy family who lived as a hermit in a monastery that had welcomed Benedictine monks, which at that time no longer had an official community. In other words, Arbizu could have been one of the last monks of Sant Miquel del Fai. 

The capbreu also reports that in 1522, Arbizu founded the benefice of Sant Miquel in the cathedral of Barcelona, with the approval of archdeacon Lluís Desplà. At a later unknown date, the same capbreu claims that he founded a perpetual anniversary for his soul and that of all the deceased faithful, the ceremony of which had to end with the chaplains giving the absolution "supra tumulum dicti fratris Andree de Arbissu constructum in dicta ecclesia". 

For all this, it is considered that the tomb was approximately date from the first quarter of the 16th century, specifically around 1525-1535. 

Làpida del segle onze-dotze. Autor: Joan Pujol-Creus

© Joan Pujol-Creus

This white marble tombstone is one of the great enigmas of Sant Miquel del Fai. Despite various studies, there is no absolute certainty as to who the person is that deserves the following verses. 

+ Hic Wielme iaces,81 Paris alter et alter Achilles;

non impar spetie, non probitate minor.

Te, tua nobilitas, probitas tua, gloria, forma

invidiosa tuos sustulit ante dies.

Ergo decet tumulo pia solvere vota sepulto,

o iuvenes quorum gloria lausque fui.

Translation: "Here you lie, o Guillem, another Paris and another Achilles, neither lesser in beauty nor lesser in bravery. You, your nobility, your bravery, the glory, the enviable beauty they exalted before your time. Thus it is fair to offer the pious vows (on) the mound (where I am) buried, o young people, of whom I was the glory and praise”.

Although immediately after the discovery of the tombstone and its publication by Jaume Ripoll, in 1830, it has always been believed that the tombstone belonged to Guillem Berenguer, the brother of Count Ramon Berenguer I's father, a later study casts doubt upon this theory.

According to the study, by Stefano M. Cingolani, it is clear that given that the monastery is closely linked to Gombau de Besora and his family, the Guillem he refers to must arise from this lineage. 

A first candidate - and the strongest - to be the person remembered on the tombstone is Guillem II de Santmartí, stepson of Guilla de Besora - daughter of Gombau de Besora, founder of Sant Miquel del Fai - and Mir Geribert de Mir.

There is a possible second candidate, although remotely so due to the many question marks that arise: Guillem de Cardona, son of Viscount Bernat Amat and d'Almodis.

Sostre enteixinat de la Casa Prioral. Autor: Iñaki Relanzón

© Iñaki Relanzón

The historical study determines that the ceiling could be contemporary to the room's construction in the 16th century. It is made up of a structure of crossed beams and wooden mouldings in a grid decorated with polychrome, gilding and ornamental motifs.

The decoration of the spaces left between the tin work and the wooden beams seems to clearly date after the creation of the roof itself. It was common for these spaces to be repainted depending on the tastes of the time. 

This type of ceiling was decorated in the Gothic period with polychrome, gilding and ornamental motifs that later, in the Renaissance, were more richly and complexly decorated, taking advantage of the framework of the beams to inscribe rhombuses, octagons, carved and moulded abutments that could be decorated with several layers of plaster of Paris and sheets of silver and yellow varnish, known as colradura. 

In this case they refer to classicist patterns that were used from the late Baroque to the 19th century and are therefore difficult to date precisely. The colours used, however, refer us to a contemporary era that could date back to the time when the monastery came into private hands from 1830. 

Relleu de Sant Miquel a la clau de volta de l'església © Joan Francès i Estoch / Arxiu SPAL

Carved in stone, it shows the Archangel Saint Michael, considered defender of the Church and prince of the heavenly armies, dressed as a winged warrior, equipped with sword and shield and fighting against a demonic being, who wears horns on his head and a scaly tail.

This iconography is based on a fragment of the book of Revelation (12, 7-9): 

"A battle broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the Dragon. The Dragon also fought with his angels, but lost and there is no longer a trace of them in heaven. Yes, the huge Dragon, the ancient serpent, was cast out. They call him Devil and Satan, and he misleads the whole world. He was thrown to earth together with his angels".

This relief has the same scenic composition and formal characteristics as the keystone 
of the presbytery of the church of Sant Miquel del Fai. A keystone that must be dated to the first half of the 16th century, in line with other Gothic architectural elements in the temple common at that time. 

The current relief could be a late-Gothic relief that would inspire the keystone, a relief from the Baroque period made in the image of the keystone, or a contemporary work resulting from some restoration. Without further documentation, it is difficult to rule out either option.

© Iñaki Relanzón

Between 1500-1550
Architectural sculpture in stone

Among the architectural elements of the church of Sant Miquel del Fai are different column fragments. One of these is a column section with helical grooves, which in the language of the time it was made was known as a "contorted" column, but it would really be more correct to call it "turned" or twisted. 

Helicoidal or twisted columns have always attracted the attention of the public for the decorative technique of the helix, which starts from an octagon that turns as it ascends, ending up forming a helicoid. 

The resource of the twisted column is used in different historical periods from Antiquity, but it is very successful in the late Gothic style, especially in the second half of the 15th century and the early 16th, from the influence exerted by the columns that Guillem Sagrera made for the Llotja of Majorca (1426-1447). Although this type of column will be found throughout the 16th century and also the first half of the 17th, hybridised with classical elements.

Còpia de la creu de Sant Miquel del Fai. Autor: Iñaki Relanzón

Copy of the original cross. © Iñaki Relanzón

The cross of Sant Miquel del Fai, housed in the Diocesan Museum of Barcelona, is highly appreciated by art historians since it is an unusual piece. It consists of a wooden core, covered by a layer of embossed and chiselled silver, although it would seem that it was once completely gilded. The cross is a Latin cross with a longer bottom arm and circular medallions on the ends of the arms. In the centre, on the front, there is an image of Christ crucified, in a hieratic pose. An angel appears in the medallion of the topmost arm with a crystal above it. Between the angel and Christ is an inscription in column format: IHS.NAZARE-SUN-REX-IVD-EOR-VM. The medallions of the crossbeam bear images of the Virgin Mary and Saint John, in a horizontal position. An image of Abraham appears in the lower medallion. The central figure on the reverse is the Agnus Dei and the ends of each arm bear images of the eagle of Saint John, the bull of Saint Luke, the lion of Saint Mark and the angel of Saint Matthew. Each symbol is accompanied by its Latin name in epigraphic letters. 

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Copy of the original Mare de Déu. © Iñaki Relanzón

Housed in the Maricel Museum in Sitges, it consists of a Gothic alabaster sculpture of the Virgin Mary together with the Child Jesus. The Virgin Mary appears sitting on a throne with the Child Jesus on her lap. She wears a golden crown with floral detail on her head, a round-necked robe cinched below the bust by a belt, and a long mantle with a golden trim that falls on either side of her face, revealing some of the curls of her hair. On her chest, the mantle is fastened by a floral brooch. She has an oval face with delicate, serene features, almond-shaped eyes, a small mouth and a pointed chin.

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