SAN MIGUEL DE TARRASA
- The complete Episcopal Ensemble of Tarrasa was declared National Monument in 1931and Artistic and Historical World Heritage site in 1985.
- Formed by three buildings, cathedral, baptistry and parochial church, San Miguel was the baptistry located between the two churches.
- It has gone under several restoration processes along the 20th century and from the year 2000 through 2008 a complete Direc tor Plan of the Monumental Emsemble that included study, restoration and revaluation.
San Miguel, located in the middle of the episcopal ensemble, between Santa María and San Pedro, is the best preserved of all three. In principle, it seems unquestionable that it is a baptistry, to such an extent that its first restorer, J. Puig i Cadafalch, installed, not without critics, the baptismal pool, as the original one had disappeared.
From the outside, with an interesting effect of volumes, it appears as a set of roofs, two, three and four pitched, at different levels that makes us think that we are in front of a much more complex building than the structures of three nave basilical plans and an apse that initially constituted Santa María and San Pedro. But it is when we enter the church when we really find ourselves in a totally different world. In fact, its set of arches, upon eight columns with capitals that form the square that supports the central vault, surrounded by four compartments that correspond to the sides of a Greek cross; another four in the corners of the square and the apse, that projects in the eastern side with access through a great horse shoe arch, as well as its complicated system of vaulting of the different spaces, all of that in less than 100m2, offers one of the most impactful images of Spanish pre romanesque art.
The shape of its plan that, as we have mentioned, is a Greek cross inlaid in a square and, with an unattached apse oriented to the east, as in the other churches of Terrassa, clearly links with the set of cruciform Visigothic churches that originated the importation of the model of the mausoleum of Gala Placidia in Rávena for the building of San Fructuoso de Montelios, that, from our point of view, was followed in churches like Santa Comba de Bande, San Pedro de la Mata or Santa María de Melque and that would continue in Carolingian constructions like Geminy-des-Prés and even in Santa María de Lebeña, already in Mozarabic times, and in the mosque of El Cristo de La Luz in Toledo, completed in 999.
However, San Miguel is the only one among them that maintains the arches’ structure upon columns, supporting the central vault that we see in Montelios, altough the addition of the compartments in the angles improved the stability of the ensemble. In this case, instead of the three arches on each side of the square that we see in San Fructuoso, there are only two by side, leaning upon for columns in the corners and another four, thinner, one in the middle of each side of the square. Its covering system, that possibly had gone through modifications regarding the original structure, presents very interesting solutions, as it is based in four groin vaults, in brick, in the four arms of the cross, another four semi domed vaults in stone, in the four compartments that form the angles of the square, so that, leaning the curved part upon the external walls, they reinforce the supports of the central vault, hemispherical, upon squinches, that have four windows, one at each side of the dome. To complete the stability of the ensemble, in the separation between the arms of the cross and the lateral compartments, there are eight rib arches that start form the four angles’ columns and lean in the external walls, reinforced in the contact points by pillasters in the inside and buttresses in the outside of the church. It is necessary to bear in mind that the arches that form the central square and support the vault are elevated round arches; different to San Fructuoso, where the arches are shoe arches. However, San Miguel, reminds us internally, maybe for the sensation of lightness, and externally for the effect of volumes of its roofs, much more the Mausoleum of Montelios than the Carolingian art, which in general is much heavier.
A special mention deserves its apse to which access is gained by a continuous horse shoe shaped arch. It is placed in the eastern side, forming an external compartment to the square with inner horse shoe shape, very similar to the one in santa María. However, externally it is octogonal, something without any precedents in the architecture of that period in Spain, except for the remains of a Visigothic church discovered in the cloister of the monastery of San Cugat del Vallés, of the same shape internally and externally, although in this case it is five sided, so it could be a local variation of that period.
The building had three doors, one at each side except in the apse. Today only the one at the southern side is left, much modified and possibly it let the direct access to the northern nave of Santa María.
Another interesting matter is the existence of a martyrial crypt located beneath the apse, to which access is gained by staircases at the southern side of its interior. It has an aisle, parallel to the eastern wall, and a perpendicular chevet, with a plan formed by three horse shoe shaped lobes, very similar to San Pedro’s, although in this case the covering of the lobes is achieved by a barrel vault and the central square’s is flat.
In the western facade, in an area with a different building style, of worse quality, we find a big very pronounced horse shoe window, clearly Mozarabic, a proof of a first partial reconstruction around the 10th century, previous to the Romanesque one, but also showing that the original ensemble is prior to the Mozarabic period.
With regard to the decoration, besides the existent painting in the apse, there are only left in the capitals of the inner square, schematized Corynthian and little homogeneous, probably reutilized from the Roman period, as well as the columns that are of different thickness. They support the set of arches that on their turn support the walls of the central vault.
In favour of the Visigothic thesis:
The zenith of the bishopry of Egara is the most reasonable moment to build an important episcopal ensemble.
The basilical structure of three naves and one apse, and the shape of the apses’ plan, in Santa María and San Pedro, a very usual design in the Early Christian period and that continues in the Visigothic period, but practically disappears since the 8yh century.
The cruciform plan of San Miguel, with a central vault based on arches upon columns and capitals, with a clear precedent in Sa
n Fructuoso de Montelios, that generates a much lighter structure than what was usual in Carolingian art.
In favour of the Carolingian thesis:
The external bond of the three churches is utilized in the Carolingian period and has not been found in any constructions of the Visigothic period that has reached these days.
The round arches in the ensemble, basically those that support the vault of San Miguel.
Other interesting information
Address: Plaza del Recto Homs, s/n, 08222 Terrassa. GPS Coordinates: 41º 34′ 0,70″N 2º 1′ 6,67″E.
Information telephone: 93 783 37 02
Visiting hours: From Tuesdays through Saturdays: Mornings from 10 to 13:30 hours. Afternoons from 16 to 19 hours. Mondays and holidays closed. Admission free.
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo III
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII
L’Art Préroman Hispanique: ZODIAQUE
Ars Hispanie: Tomo II
Templos Visigótico-Románicos de Tarrasa: F. Torrella Niubó