Visigothic Art


Location: Lands of Lara (Burgos) Spain

Access: Leave Burgos to the south taking A-1



The church is located in the region of Lara, surrounded by Celtic, Roman and Medieval remains. Only its chevet and a part of the crosssing persist, without the original vaults. Although there have been many doubts about the date it was built, thanks to a dedication difficult to interpret, today its is considered as Visigothic of the 7th century, possibly the last one we have news from, together with Santa María de Melque and San Giao de Nazaré, prior to the Arabic invasion.

Built on base of large grey limestone ashlars with stripes of engraved decoration in stone, also calcareous but lighter in colour, this church has only reached partially to these days, as the only elements left are the square apse and the transverse nave. For what it has been possible to discover from the excavations, we know it was a three nave basilic, the two lateral ones divided in three chambers and separated by series of horseshoe arches. Only the starting point of one of them has been preserved, with just one exterior square apse and a portico with two lateral chambers at their feet. It has a crossing nave, that would have been of equal height than the central one, with lateral overhanging porticos, as well as the apse, from the basilica's rectangular plan. Its structure seems a step in between San Pedro de la Nave and the Asturian churches of later.

It is quite possible that the original construction remained unfinished as in the excavations only a part of the bases of the naves has been found. Besides, in the interior of the church, several large stone blocks have been preserved, decorated with bas relief, with antropomorhic reproductions that give the impression that they were never placed where they were intended to. On the other hand, out of the six medallions on the exterior walls of the rectangular apse, placed to receive monograms carved in stone with intertwined letters in the Gothic style, only three have been sculpted, the other remained without any decoration. This shows the possibility that part of the decoration of the Visigothic buildings might have been sculpted on walls that had already been raised, that could explain some conflictive issues like the shortage in decoration of Santa María de Melque, that could have occurred because the Arab invasion did not leave time to decorate it.
The structure of this church varies with regard to the preceeding ones and provides new connection points between the Visigothic architecture of the end of the 7th century and the first Asturian churches like Santianes de Pravia and San Julián de los Prados:Detalle del arco triunfal de la cabecera The presence of a transverse nave, of equal width than the central nave, in combination with a basilical plan. The lateral naves are much narrower than in the preceeding monuments, as in the Asturian churches. From the reamains preserved, we know that the central and the crossing nave raised to a considerable height and were possibly covered with a wooden roof. The existence of a portico with lateral chambers lets us think that a gallery could have been on top, that already appears in San Giao de Nazaré and that it would become usual in all Asturian architecture.

It has a magnificent decoration sculpted internally and externally. The sculpture is in two planes and with beveled figures. At its exterior it consists of two decorative stripes in limestone in a lighter colour than the rest, that go along the chevet's walls and the front of the crossing, with a third in the headwall. The lowest one consists of a long undulating stem with a bunch or five-leaf flowers in the inflections that remind the vegetal motifs from "the Master of the Nave" but with a coarser sculpture. The upper one with circles entwined with birds and vegetal drawings. The third stripe of the headwall is similar but with representation of animals of a clear Syrian-Persian influence. In the second one there are also some anagrams similar to those of Visigothic coins of the second half of the 7th century.

In the interior, besides the decoration of the toral arch, a mixture of the two former stripes, there is a secods group of decoration formed by seven big stone blocks with iconographic relief. This interior decoration of Santa María is famous for the presence of bas reliefs characterized by their appearance embossed in a stone frame; they represent historical subjects and their main feature is the expressionism of all proportions of the characters connected, not only with San Pedro de la Nave, but with the whole iconography of the Mozarabic manuscripts, an announcement of the Romanesque art. The decorative style of the church of Santa María is completely lineal; all figures are facing the front and cut out in one plan on a deep end but without interior plans.

The bas relief of the right impost where the arch of the entrance to the apse rests, represents two angels face to face in their flight, both holding a circular medallion with the image of a radiant sun, represented as a face without a beard; a female figure. Their silhouettes, with gash strokes come out with little relief upon a flat background; above the figure, the Visigothic handwriting: SOL.(SUN)




The other block, located in the left impost, has the same composition but ir represents the moon, in a very unusual way, as a male character with a beard, as well as with the two angels supporting the circle where, on the head of the figure there is a waxing moon with its word: LUNA (MOON).






The two other blocks conform characters looking to the front and holding books. They are thought to be evangelists; one of them, St. John the Evangelist. They are located upon the first block of this group.

located above the triumphal arch's key, represents a bearded Christ with a cruciferous halo in a blessing attitude.

The two other blocks conform characters looking to the front and holding books. They are thought to be evangelists; one of them, St. John the Evangelist. They are located upon the first block of this group.


Two other blocks of the same shape and size as the former ones are now on the flor of the high altar. One represents a male figure looking to the front holding a processional cross in its right hand and two angels, like the former ones , blocks of the Sun and the Moon. The other one follows the same disposition, only that in this case the figure is a feminine one representing a woman with her hand on her chest. It is possible that they had been placed in the separation arch between the crossing and the central nave that would have been similar to the one preserved in the chevet.



Comunidad Odinista de España-Asatru 1981-2008