Clashes in Spain as Religious Art in Catalan Museum Heads Back to Aragon

There have been clashes between police and demonstrators outside a regional museum in Catalonia over the removal by court order of religious paintings and other artifacts originally from a monastery in Aragon, the neighboring region in northern Spain.

The confrontation began this morning, December 11, after the arrival of the Civil Guard during the night to cordon off the Museu Lleida so that the 44 works could be removed ahead of their return to Aragon, Spanish media reports.

The Sijena monastery. Photo: Ecelan via Wikimedia commons.

In 2015, a judge ordered the return of the works from the historic Monastery of Sijena in Aragon, which were removed in the 1970s and later sold by an order of nuns that had relocated to Barcelona. The region of Catalonia bought the works for around €60,0000 ($70,000) in 1986. The court ruled the sale illegal. The works, which have been in the Lleida museum since 1999 include around 20 paintings as well as alabaster reliefs and medieval wooden sculptures. A welcoming party awaits the return of the art and artifacts in Villanueva de Sijena, which has a population of around 400. 

Around 50 other works sold from Sijena by the nuns went to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) in Barcelona. It is already home to mural paintings from Sijena, which were removed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War for safekeeping. The monastery was badly damaged during the conflict.

There have been longstanding claims for these and other treasures from the royal monastery, which was founded in the late 12th century. Many were dispersed down the centuries. The court battle over the works in Lleida featured in the ongoing campaign for Catalan independence.

Works from Sijena are in the Prado in Madrid as well as Museo de Zaragoza in the capital of Aragon, the newspaper El Mundo reports.The kings of Aragon ruled much of Catalonia as well as territory in modern day France and Italy at the height of their powers during the Middle Ages. Several royals became nuns in the richly endowed monastery.  

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