The Monastery of Leyre is one of the most beautiful abbeys in Spain, closely related to the history of Navarre. It was an uncontested cultural centre of the region.
There is no evidence of the date of its foundation. Nevertheless, the abbey is mentioned in documents dating back to the year 851. At the end of the 10 C, the troops of Almanzor destroyed the Preromanesque construction.
After receiving many royal donations, the rebuilding began in 1022 and regained its original splendour shortly. The temple reached its period of greatest glory under the reign of Sancho García the Major, who introduced San Benito´s rule, based on Cluny´s model. This was reflected in the hospitality offered to pilgrims on their way to Santiago. Later, in the 12 C, the Cistercian reform was introduced.
San Salvador´s temple -a blend of different architectural styles- had a great influence on the later development of this type of constructions. The oldest part of the temple which has come down to us is the crypt, from the 11 C. The entrance to the crypt is via an old Romanesque doorway. It has three naves with barrel vaulting, supported by short columns that give the impression of massive stone blocks due to their great size. The decoration on the capitals is typical of the Romanesque.
The church, built in 1057, is divided into three naves with semicircular apses of equal height and linear configuration. The central nave, built in the Cistercian style, supports a Gothic vaulting. On the left side opens a Romanesque doorway from the 12 C, with plain columns and a monogram of Christ on the spandrel wall. The doorway called "spetiosa", created in the Navarrese Romanesque style, is richly decorated with statues of great size. The archivolts are made of red limestone whereas the spandrels are of sandstone. Both elements show elaborated carvings. The different materials point out that they come from different doorways. Its interior houses the plain pantheon of the Kings of Navarre, contained in a chapel closed by a Gothic grill, and a retable of San Benito. On the northern wall there is a beautiful carving of Christ from the late 16 C.