Romanesque Churches of Northern Spain - Part 2

Perazancas de Ojeda, Palencia

The church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción is situated within the village of Perazancas de Ojeda which is 13 kilometres due west of Aguilar de Campóo ‘as the crow flies’. It can be reached from Aguilar by driving west for 15 kilometres on the PP-2135 in the direction of Vallespinosa de Aguilar and Cozuelos de Ojeda and then taking the P-227 north for 4 kilometres.

1. The church as seen from the east.

The church has a nave and two aisles. The original Romanesque church had one nave with two bays, a straight presbytery and a round apse and two lateral chapels; the apse was built over rock. The church was extended by adding two aisles in the 13th century. Then, in the 17th century, the church was extended to the north and west, changing its orientation from east/west to north/south, with the square apse in the north as it is today. The sacristy, atrium, and belfry date from 18th century. The church is surrounded by a 17th century wall.
The original Romanesque apse in the east, now a chapel acting as a baptistery, is divided into three sections by two engaged columns. It was reinforced by two buttresses at a later date. It has a splayed window surrounded by a dripstone decorated with intertwined vines and an archivolt decorated with curled ferns resting on two capitals with acanthus leaves. Immediately below the window is a billet impost.
South Entrance
The arched doorway (photo 2) is surmounted by a dripstone decorated with undulating stems and leaves with, on the right side, a basilisk (symbol of Satan) chasing a harpy entwined by foliage. Below are two archivolts resting on a continuous impost, decorated with palmettes, and on capitals and columns. Both outer capitals have two rows of acanthus leaves.

2. The south entrance.

The inner left capital depicts the Flight into Egypt with acanthus leaves in the background. Mary sits with Jesus on a donkey at the right while, on the left, Joseph holds the animal’s reins. The right side of the left impost has birds amongst foliage, pecking at seed.
The inner right capital has a mounted knight, much damaged, wearing a coat of mail and holding a large pointed shield. His horse is being attacked by two basilisks, one from the front and one from the rear. Knights fighting mythical monsters are often depicted at the entrance to a church to remind the faithful of the constant need to overcome evil. And, in Spain where the Reconquista was taking place, a feudal knight was a symbol of the defending order against any enemy.
The interior archivolt has radially placed figures that are almost three-dimensional. They most likely represent events that used to take place in front of church entrances in the Middle Ages. This entrance represents a silent witness to those events. The depictions on the inner archivolt, from left to right, most likely represent the following two events that used to take place in front of church (interpretation I owe to the article, Piasca: el rastro de un beso – see Bibliography).
1. A ‘Trial by Ordeal’ (ordalias) in which God would grant success to the righteous (photo 3). This trial usually took place to defend someone’s honour. In this case, it would seem to be the honour of the lady (third from the left) who has her hands raised to her cheeks in desperation. The trial is depicted by a fight between two men (first and second from the left) who hold shields and truncheons. They are not fighting to the death – there are no swords involved and they are only holding wicker shields, one of which has a cross at its centre, and wooden clubs.

3. Trial by ordeal – two men fighting to defend the honour of the lady on the right.

2. A Wedding. Important weddings were often celebrated by musicians and a circus of acrobats and tamed animals. Here a few musicians are represented: a man playing the rebec (rabel), a man playing the zither (salterio), and a harpist. Between the rebec player and the zither player there is a monkey. After the musicians, there is a tonsured monk reading a religious book, most likely the wedding ritual. He is followed by the loving bridal couple and then another tonsured monk who is busy writing the marriage contract in a book. Next to him is an angel holding the monk’s inkpot in one hand and blessing the contract with his other – notice the position of his two fingers (photo 4).

4. Wedding - monk reading ritual, bridal couple, monk writing contract, angel holding ink pot.

The bridal couple sit side by side. She is lady of high status as shown by her clothing: she wears a diadem over her bonnet and a sheer diaphanous veil covers her hair. She caresses the man’s cheek with her right hand and he caresses hers with his left. They hold a bundle in front of them which is most likely the arras, the thirteen coins given at a wedding by the groom to the bride as a token of confirmation of the marriage vows, a Spanish custom to this day. Lastly, there is a female acrobat with her body bent over backwards, supporting herself by having her legs bent beneath and behind her and by her arms held above and behind her shoulders.
In Spain weddings took place in front of the church door until the early twentieth century. Once officially married the couple would go inside the church to be blessed. A stole was placed across the shoulders of the groom and over the head of the bride. This custom prevailed till the 1970s.
Musicians accompanied by monkeys and acrobats often performed at village feasts and at religious ceremonies which, even though they were not approved of by the Church, they were welcomed by the villagers as a relief from their daily tasks. Consequently, they became an integral part of the festivities.

The original Romanesque apse has, in its lower part, a blind arcade of five tri-lobed arches resting on twin columns and capitals. The capitals are decorated with acanthus leaves with volutes in the upper corners. They are surrounded by a dripstone decorated with leaves and masks on the spandrels. A Romanesque conical-shaped font is kept in this chapel.

Enciclopedia del Románico en Palencia, Fundación Santa María La Real, Volumen 2, pp. 813-818
Garcia Gil, Fernando, Piasca: el rastro de un beso, 25 May 2015, Amigos del Románico website
Románico Guías, Palencia 2006, Fundación Santa María La Real, pp. 158-9
Nuño González, Jaime, “De la cuna a la sepultura: el discurso de la vida en la época románica”, pp.9-60 in Los Protagonistas de la obra románica, Fundación Santa Maria la Real, 2004

Barrio de Santa María, Palencia

The village of Barrio de Santa Maria is on the west side of the Embalse de Aguilar. It can be reached by driving west out of Aguilar de Campoó on the PP 2131 for 6.5 kilometres to the junction with the PP 2132. Turn right on to the PP 2132 in the direction of Salinas de Pisuerga. Barrio de Santa Maria is 5.5 kilometres north on the PP 2132. The Ermita de Santa Eulalia is some 400 metres southwest of the village on the Calle Iglesia. Its GPS coordinates are: 42°48'37.33"N, 4°22'31.58"W and it is at an altitude of 970 metres. The hermitage used to be the church of the mediaeval hamlet of Santa Olalla which no longer exists.
The hermitage entrance is on the north side because the hamlet it served as a church was situated on that side and thus this was the most accessible entrance for the parishioners. On stylistic grounds, it is dated towards the end of the 12th century or beginning of the 13th. It has a single nave with no later addition to the structure making it one of the best-preserved churches in the province of Palencia. It also has a remarkable painted interior dating from 1300, the restoration of which was executed by the Centro de Estudios del Romanico of Aguilar de Campóo and finished at the end of 1996.
Externally, the north and south walls of this single nave church are contained between two buttresses on the east and west sides. The church has a slightly projecting north entrance, followed by a lower straight presbytery and round apse. The roof throughout the church is supported by an undecorated corbel table. The west wall extends to form a bell-cote topped by a segmented pediment.

1. The church's east elevation showing its position on the slope. Cars are left below.

The door is surrounded by four archivolts with roll and concave moulding. They rest on a continuous impost which extends right around the projecting entrance. It is decorated with an undulating stem with palmettes which emanates from an animal’s mouth. The left impost is much damaged. On each side, there are four capitals on columns, two of the columns being monolithic and two segmented. The left capitals are decorated with a row of stylised leaves; the right capitals have more elaborate leaves.
The attractive door is original and intricate wrought iron keeps the wooden sections in place (photo 2). It is considerably weathered and over time has split in various places. Wrought iron clamps were used during restoration in the 1980s to prevent any further splitting. They are V-shaped to differentiate them from the original wrought iron decoration.

2. North door – intricate wrought iron keeps the wooden section in place.

The apse is divided vertically in three sections by three engaged segmented columns which rest on bases and podiums of different heights to compensate for the slope of the ground. Each section has a loophole window surrounded by a roll and convex archivolt with a fillet separating it from a dripstone. Two imposts surround the apse – one with a billet below the windows and another which serves as the abacus to the capitals.
North Window: It has acanthus leaves on the left capital. On the right capital Adam and Eve stand on either side of a leafy tree with the serpent around its trunk (photo 3).

3. Apse north window, right capital – Adam and Eve and the serpent.

The left impost has crosses with four leaves and a bud at its centre. There is a serpent on its inner side. The right impost has striated interlocked roundels.
Central Window: It has a dripstone divided in four parts by a central cross and decorated with balls. It has a tympanum, edged with a blind arcade and surrounded by a billet, portraying a bearded angel in the act of blessing and wearing the stole and maniple of a priest. The right impost has ribbed roundels with open buds at their centres; a striated ribbon lashes them together. The left impost is decorated with pairs of striated curls. Both capitals have stylised leaves.
South window: The impost on both sides is decorated with beaded undulating stems with palmettes, the left stem emanating from an animal’s mouth. The left capital has a pair of confronted harpies – a male on the left and a female on the right – wearing Phrygian caps symbolising their magical powers and their eastern provenance. The right capital has a griffon (the body and hindquarters of a horse and the wings and head of an eagle) attacking a lion.
The single nave is barrel-vaulted with three projecting transverse arches. A double triumphal arch gives way to a straight presbytery and a round apse with three loophole windows which are surrounded by an archivolt. The apse has three imposts: the first at the lower part of the window, the second acting as an abacus to the columns and the third, which goes all around the church, being at the join of the dome and the wall.
The entire apse and walls were covered by frescoes dating from the 1300s; they are much damaged. The dome of the apse has Christ in Majesty with, below him on the right, the bull of Luke and, on the left, the lion of Mark, both identified by an inscription. The rest of the apse is covered with squares in a chessboard-like manner with crosses in some of them. On the presbytery walls, which are divided into two registers, the outlines of the figures are clearly visible.
The south presbytery wall has frescoes of the suffering of the condemned after the Last Judgement (photo 4). In the top register, on the right, some devils are stoking a fire below a large cauldron while, on the left, two demons hold some souls in human form. In the lower register, on the right, there is the gaping mouth of Leviathan into which humans are being pushed by devils. On the left, people are falling into a fire headfirst while a devil stands by, holding a birch.

4. Frescoes on the apse and south presbytery wall.

The right presbytery wall is dedicated to the rewards of the Just. In the top register, couples holding children are bringing them to a seated person (damaged) on the right. In the lower register, Abraham sits on the left holding a cloth between his hands – seated in this manner, he represents Paradise. Walking towards him are men holding souls and one holding a long-handled cross.
Enciclopedia del Románico en Palencia, Fundación Santa María La Real, 2002, Volumen 1, pp. 221-232
Románico Guías: Todo el Románico de Palencia, Fundación Santa María La Real, 2006, pp. 34-5


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