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The Museu de Menorca’s Building

The Sant Francesc Convent

In 1459 the first Franciscan order convent in Maó is founded under the name of Convent de Jesús. In 1535, as a consequence of the Turkish attack on the city, the building was demolished leaving hardly any remains.

The current Sant Francesc Convent is located in a building from the second half of the 17th century beginning of the 18th century. The documentation kept from the years 1648 to 1704 in Maó’s Historic Archives offers a few interesting dates about the building works that were carried out at the ruins of the first convent, practically a century later, until reaching the current building:

  • In 1648 the remains of the previous buildings were redistributed. An area was built for community services (stables and refectory).
  • Between 1694 and 1695 a quarter of the convent was built and half of the cloister.
  • In 1696 adding 4 rooms and two of the cloister’s wings increased the outbuildings area.
  • Between 1700 and 1705 the convent’s northern wing is built and the south-western and north-western parts are finished along with their service rooms: bedrooms, storeroom, upper cloister, attic and a cellar.

In the 20th century, thanks to the funds accumulated by the convent for the arrival of a religious figure from the Philippines, they carried out improvements that modified the eastern side of the building: the façade is finished, the entrance door frame in constructed, the eastern wing rooms are made larger and the western wing is redesigned.

The buildings structure is organised around a three-floor cloister, with a square footprint and a wing that stands out over the southern part and breaks the uniformity of the buildings shape. It is soberly decorated as Franciscan orders normally were and combining the superposition of classical orders and the characteristically Baroque elements, it is spread over 4 levels and 5 openings to each of the downstairs wings. The corridors of the ground floor open up onto the central courtyard through halfway arches that are supported by the composite order capitals and decorated with palms and ribbons. The system of separation between each of the wings gives personality to the cloister: it is composed of polyhedral pillars with six different faces which come out of the ground with very styled Doric capitals.

Convent

The convent is distributed off a hall on the east side and a corridor to the north of the building, which separates the church from the convent. On the ground floor were the grammar and philosophy schools, four bedrooms, the chapterhouse and refectory as well as the library, the kitchen and the cellar. Its perimeter is covered with cross vaults separated by sub arches with decorated keys. A wide staircase provides access to the upper floor.

The convents main decoration is found on this floor and the first floor and is focused on keystones and shields, which constitute one of the most important and complete collections in the city. These are sculptured in limestone and decorated with different motifs, amongst which religious symbols, floral decorations and heraldic, stand out. The heraldic are composed of the coats of arms of the families that helped, with their donations, to construct the building.

On the first floor were the majority of the convents bedrooms distributed off a corridor full of cross vaults and decorated keystones. This area also held the infirmary and the barbers. The second floor is organised in the same way as the others and was occupied with bedrooms. The ceiling is flat, with no decorations. On the third floor was the attic. The outside area of the northeastern wing had a vegetable garden, stables and a mill.

Church

The construction of the church started at the end of the 17th century and was prolonged throughout the first half of the 18th century. In 1739 the decoration of the main façade was completed and the side entrance was built, which gave access to the convent. It is a single nave church with crossed vaults and lateral chapels. The Immaculada’s chapel stands out with its dome and octagonal shape. The front is solid with few openings and has a Romanesque-inspired door next to the convent entrance door.

The building’s uses

The Franciscans occupied the convent until 1835 when they had to abandon it due to the ecclesiastical disentailment ordered by Mendizábal. This disentailment caused the disappearance of the Carmelites and Franciscans convent: additionally, Maó was left without any centers for higher education.

From that moment the building was handed over to the City Councill and was destined to other services:

  • La Casa de la Misericòrdia orphanage opened its doors in 1840 and was there until the 60s of the 20th century, occupying part of the old Franciscans convent.

During this period, the distribution of the areas was kept as follows: on the ground floor, the convents old refectory was used as a theater (from 1948), the old kitchen became the kitchen and dining room for the boys and men, the cloisters courtyard and the exterior south wing were used as play areas for all the children that the orphanage took in, the ground floor of the southerly wing was the houses laundry-room and the basement was used as a storeroom. On the first floor, some of the rooms previously occupied by the old friars were occupied by the religious who managed the Centre and on the south-west side were the dining room, girls and women’s bedrooms and the washrooms. Finally, on the second floor were the boys and men’s bedrooms.

  • L’Escola Nàutica (the sailing school) was opened on 1st of October 1855 at the El Carme Convent and was moved to the Sant Francesc Convent in 1865. It continued to function until 1869.

One could say that this school started Menorca’s secondary education. The centralised politics imposed that these learning centers must be located in the provinces capitals, which for the Balearics was Mallorca, and Menorcans had to travel there in order to continue their studies. Therefore, they looked for a solution that would allow educational centers on the island, particularly in Maó, which was the administrative capital of Menorca from the 18th century.

  • L’Institut d’Ensenyament Secundari (the Secondary Education Centre). Maó could not choose to have a secondary school, as it was not the capital of the province, despite this though, it was possible to start this level of education thanks to the existence of the sailing school. In 1864 a private secondary school, which depended on the Provincial secondary school, was opened. This school was open for 5 years. During its first year it was located at the El Carme Convent but in the years 1865-1866 it was moved to the Sant Francesc Convent. In 1869 the school opened as a secondary education center called Institut Lliure d'Ensenyament Mitjà. In 1891 it was given provincial rights and then eventually in 1963 the secondary education center was moved to its current location (IES Joan Ramis i Ramis). .

The center’s entrance was on the east side of the Sant Francesc square. One accessed a door that opened up into the hall with a courtyard and garden. From there, it went onto a large staircase that provided access to the main floor where the study rooms were joined by a long corridor on the east and northern sides of the second and third floors. There were also rooms for the secretary, the caretaker’s offices and a Physics committee.

  • The library opened up to the public in 1867, even though it had already been operating since 1861 due to Agustín Sevilla, Menorca’s vice-governor’s, initiative. At the beginning it held 9,600 volumes that came from different convents across the island. It took up the refectory’s space of the convent until it was moved to the Can Mercadal palace, which it inaugurated as its headquarters in 1948.

The restoration of the Sant Francesc convent to a Museum was carried out in two projects: 1984-1989 V. Jordi and E. Taltavull and 1990-1997 E. Torres, J. A. Martínez.

Bibliography

Sintes, G.; Andreu, C.; Hernández, M. A. (1988). “El complejo conventual de San Francisco" a Escultura barroca y clasicista. Mahón siglos xvii y xviiiRevista de Menorca, page. 315-439. Ed. Ateneu de Maó.

Sintes, Guillem; Andreu, Cristina; Hernández, M. Àngels (2004). Història de l’Art IEnciclopèdia de Menorca. Ed. Obra Cultural de Menorca.

Institut Joan Ramis: Museu Virtual <http://www.iesjoanramis.org/>    

 

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