Almost nothing is known about the monastery of Samos during the first centuries of its existence. The oldest of its architectural remains is the small chapel of San Salvador, dating from the 10th century and it still stands next to the tree that gave it its nickname: Ciprés (cypress) chapel. For some historians the chapel was the germ of the monastery, but most think that it was of only secondary importance, probably intended for guests, noble or regal pilgrims with their retinues.
Regarding the church of the monastery, we know that in the twelfth century it was rebuilt in Romanesque style, but of this building only a beautiful Romanesque door has survived. The current architecture of the whole monastery began to be built in the sixteenth century, after a devastating fire in 1533 or 1534 which almost completely destroyed the cloisters and convent dependencies.
The first work started was known as the Cloister of the Nereids, quadrangular cloister three floors high, created in Renaissance period, between 1562-1582, but still closely linked to the late Gothic. In the center of the cloister there is the famous fountain of the Nereids, which owes its name to the fact that it is adorned with mermaids- half women and half fish, known in ancient times as the Sirens.
In the last decades of the seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century the building activity became more feverish, with the building of the Great Cloister and the new church. The Great Cloister or Father Feijoo is a clear example of the purist architecture of the second half of the seventeenth century.
The small Romanesque church continued to be the place of worship of the monastery and its large community, as well as its new neighbours – peasants, artisans and artists at the service of the monks – which clearly meant that a larger temple needed to be built. Finally the construction was made possible thanks to the patronage of Father Feijoo, a well-known writer belonging to the Benedictine Order, and to the work of a master of works of the Order: the architect Fray Juan Vázquez. The efforts of both these men led to the construction, between 1734 and 1748, of the immense edifice that we see today, with its interior of clear classical inspiration and its more avant-garde exterior, indebted to the great masters of its time: Simón Rodríguez and Fernando De Casas.
Apart from the church and the cloisters, there are many other rooms and dependencies of architectural interest. Among those worthy of mention are the refectory and the old kitchen. The old kitchen of the monastery can be seen from the outside, because it is a separate building, currently in the orchard: a slender and elegant tower, ornamented with pinnacles of balls and covered with an octagonal domed roof.
Altogether, the architecture of Samos fully responds to the spirit of the ambitious architectural works developed by the great Galician monasteries in the 17th century. Its two cloisters and church are of much later date but their interiors remains anchored to the classical style, reminding us how the art of the Counter Reformation prevailed in Galicia for a long time.
Another aspect that should not be forgotten is the part played by slate amongst the building materials. For while granite ashlar is limited to the main façades, slate is used on all the other walls and roofs- a practice common to all buildings along the Camino de Santiago in the province of Lugo.
Although today all the buildings are preserved as they have been described, it should be remembered that in 1951 a terrible fire broke out. This fire started on September 24, 1951 and devastated the two cloisters and the convent buildings, as well as costing the life of a small boy. Hundreds of people came to quell the flames and managed to stop the fire from gaining the church. However, there were many losses, especially manuscripts from the archive and the library of Father Feijoo. During the next nine years intense works were undertaken in its reconstruction and what we can contemplate today was inaugurated on September 14, 1960.
Photo: We have taken this image of the Commons Wikipedia project, its author is José Antonio Gil Martínez.