A Room with a Pew - sleeping our way through Spain's ancient monasteries
So what made their journey so special? Only the fact that they stayed exclusively in some of Spain’s ancient monasteries - Benedictine, Cistercian, Dominican, or Trappist - where they were able to sleep in the cloistered silence of a hospederia, disturbed only by the toll of a bell summoning the monks and nuns to prayer.
As the authors quickly discovered, Spain’s ancient monasteries are fascinating places in which to stay. Most were built in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries so they are ripe with history and rich with the art they have acquired over the centuries. In many of the monasteries, the authors were given their own keys so they could come and go as they pleased, using the chapels, libraries, museums – and even the kitchens, too. This was not a privilege extended to them; instead, these are facilities that are made available to anyone who wants to stay overnight.
The monks and nuns the authors met were sometimes cloistered, but it was always possible to mingle with these religious recluses. The authors were able to discover what initially prompted these once-ordinary people to enter the religious life – and what keeps them there, locked inside a closed community that’s tied to an endless cycle of prayer.
In each of the monasteries, the authors were given a warm and courteous welcome - in keeping with the Rule of St. Benedict (the founding father of Western monasticism), which dictates that all strangers must be taken in and made to feel at home – a tradition that stretches back more than 1,500 years.
What better solution than to rent out the hundreds of rooms that once were filled by monks and nuns, but that otherwise would now stand empty.
A Room with a Pew is a travel book that gives an account of the authors' journey. It is not a guide book. But it does contain enough information for readers to plan a similar journey of their own - staying overnight in some of Spain's ancient monasteries.
Kirkus Reviews says of A Room with a Pew, “The authors’ use of immersion journalism provides unique insight into the inner sanctum of the monasteries.”
Book Pleasures writes, "If you have any inclination to try an offbeat way of seeing Spain, this book would give you some options. The authors do a good job of giving step-by-step advice about how to approach such a trip, and, given their degree of travel experience, it would be most helpful advice."
A Traveler's Library says that the authors "have created a book that is great fun to read - unreligious, but not sacreligious... an entertaining book that sheds a lot of light on an important element of Spain, and gives very practical information about the way you might go about sleeping with nuns."
ForeWord writes that, "... respected travel writers Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt plunged off the beaten path through Spain, spending their nights exclusively in several of the country's ancient monasteries... Starks and Murcutt offer readers a captivating tour of these edifices of spirituality, piety and community - places embodying values so different from the rest of the world. The writers so enjoyed their own experience that they offer advice on choosing a monastery, making a reservation, and getting along with the hosts."
The New York Times
Read an interview published in The New York Times with Miriam Murcutt, one of the authors of A Room with a Pew .
Watch a short video about A Room with a Pew and the journey through Spain the authors took when researching their book.