When the author first visited Santa María of Melque some years ago, probably the most significant early medieval Hispanic abbey, she realized the need for a fresh look at monastic architecture before the reception of Romanesque traditions. Considering this, the main question of this book deals with the reconstruction of the physical image of monasteries built before the arrival of Augustinian reforms at the end of the eleventh century. The study includes a catalogue of 190 examples with selected bibliographical references, and a critical argument in order to confirm (or reject) the coenobitic function of the sites analysed. This data has enabled the author to conclude that there were many variables that made it impossible to identify the existence of a unique monastic type for all this period, and that one should reject the idea of a homogeneous monastic architecture in the Late Antique world. The conclusions offer both a methodology and those main features that help to identify monastic sites. The analysis of the logical use of space, mainly based on documentary information, makes it possible to conclude that architectonic components are common to all monastic sites, no matter their geography or chronology. This method thus enables us to distinguish between inhabited domestic sites and monastic ones (featured by structures such as churches, refectories, schools and cemeteries, etc, that are absent in secular sites) and also provide a means to identify precisely any monastic site during investigation and thus interpret it.
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