SANTA CRISTINA DE LENA
- Declared National Monument in 1885 and Word Heritage site by UNESCO, registered together with other Asturian Pre-Romanesque monuments under the name of “Churches of the Kingdom of Asturias” in 1985.
- Totally restored in 1893 by Juan Bautista Lázaro, being that the first documented action on Asturian monuments. It consisted in the rebuilding of the central vault that had been ruined for the three previous centuries and that had been then replaced by a wooden cover. There are questions regarding some of the solutions, such as the new structure of the platform and its ledge.
- Several archaeological excavations, preservations and restorations were performed along the 20th century.
Declared Artistic Historic Monument since 1885 and World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, this church, of which there is no reference in the documents of its time, is considered as the last building of the Ramirense period.
Of small dimensions, its plan is formed by a rectangular nave 10 by 6m, with an attached apse at the east end, a portico at the west and two lower chambers than the former ones in the middle of the larger sides. It has only one door of a large size in the portico, between the buttresses, finishing in a round arch made out of large irregular voussoirs upon two engaged pillars, and linteled in its lower part. Its external appearance is similar to the Visigothic cruciform churches, but the presence of two buttresses in each one of the sixteen plans that conform its structure, confer to this building, completely isolated on a hill and surrounded by a beautiful landscape, a very special image.
Being its outside appearance so attractive, its interior is of greater originality. The whole church is vaulted and the communications between the different areas is achieved with round arches. The covering system utilized in the main nave, with five stretches is very similar to the one of Santa María del Naranco: barrel vault upon perpiaño arches that lean upon attached columns -in this case it is not with quadruple columns, like in the monument of El Naranco, but simple or double- also upon truncated pyramidal capitals that form a blank series of arches attached to the wall and with medallions between the arches; all of that forming a structure that supports the perpiaño arches together with the external buttresses.
The main nave is divided in three zones: the first one corresponds to the chevet, placed a meter higher than the central stretch, and separated from it by an iconostasis formed by three round arches upon columns and capitals that can be reached by two small staircases attached to the lateral walls. Under the central arch, a bit larger than the lateral ones, an inner door from the Visigothic period was placed, obviously to respect the separation of the sections required by the lithurgy of those times. Upon this triple arcade there is another one, also triple, much lower than the former one, upon stone lattice that could possibly be a later addition, maybe from the Mozarabic period. It has but one apse that can be reached through a round arch upon columns and capitals, surrounded by two smaller blank arches, that must have contained altars, each one of them, and that produces the sensation of a triple chevet; all of that elevated upon three steps on the floor. The tribune above the portico is also very interesting and the third zone of the main nave, formed by a vaulted lobby with two small chambers at the sides. The tribune can be reached by a staircase placed at an inner side of the main nave.
Like with the other two Ramirense buildings, the whole work corresponds to a previous perfectly conceived plan, maybe with the exception of the complete or part of the iconostasis’ overimposed series of arches and, as already mentioned, the inner door that had been reutilized from a Visigithic building, though it might have replaced the original one in a later period. The vault’s structure, the way to utilize de buttresses, the series of blank arches and the decoration of columns, capitals and medallions is directly related with both and it seems unquestionable that it was built by the same architect and in the same atelier. But in Santa Cristina de Lena we find ourselves with very special characteristiscs that are not found in Santa María del Naranco nor in San Miguel de Lillo, since it is a smaller building, possibly a monastic church of lesser importance than the royal buildings of El Naranco, which plan recalls very much the Visigothic cruciform churches and include decoration of those times, as in the iconostasis; not only the inner door is clearly Visigothic, but also the Corynthian columns and capitals that support it could have been reutilized from a previous construction. Even the possibility that our mysterious architect might have rebuilt a Visigothic church keeping the plan’s shape, should not be underestimated.
When we analyse Santa María del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo, we question ourselves of not only who was its architect, but above all, how was it possible that both him and his team could have reached the necessary mastery to build, without any previous experience, as there are no precedents of this kind in all of Europe, buildings of that level of complexity and perfect execution.. We could maybe find the answer in Santa Cristina de Lena, that has been estimated of a later date for some details that seem Mozarabic, like the whole set of the iconostasis or some lattice decoration that, as they are not structured, they could have been later additions. In fact we find other reasons to think it was built later; however, from our point of view, there are many to consider it the first building of the Ramirense period:
- According to everything that has been analysed, there is no doubt it was built by the same architect and the same team.
It is a smaller building of lesser importance, therefore more adequate to try new techniques and to form a team.
It has clear Visigothic precedents, like its plan, the presence of a sole apse and part of the decoration. Even the existence of an iconostasis with inner doors recalls more the Visigothic and Mozarabic styles than the kind of separation with a wall between the main nave and the transept, which was usual in the previous Asturian art.
On account of the reutilized elements it is obvious that either it is a reconstruction of a Visigothic church or, at least, one near must have stood to serve as a reference for a totally vaulted building.
There is not any trace that the applied technique was more refined than in El Naranco; rather the opposite in some of the details. For instance, it does not have the decorated pillars that are found upon the medallions in the support of the arches of the other two buildings.
Finally, it seeems more reasonable that a builder would receive assignments from lower to greater importance and not the other way round. There is no question that the royal buildings of El Naranco were more important than the little chapel of Lena.
For all of that we consider it is more probable that Santa Cristina de Lena was built before Santa María del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo, and that Ramiro the First commissioned an architect that had already demonstrated his worth, the construction of larger buildings, the complexity and importance, so as to implement on them the new proven techniques.
Other interesting information
Access: Leave Oviedo, take A-66 to León; take exit 93 until Vega del Rey. The church can be seen from the highway. GPS Coordinates: 43º 7′ 38,33″N 5º 48′ 51,65″W.
Information Telephone: Aula Didáctica del Prerrománico Asturiano, located in the old train station “de la Cobertoria”, in Lena: 985 497 606 and 609 042 153.
Visiting hours: From April 1st to October 31st, from Tuesdays through Sundays, from 11:00 to 13:00 and from 16:30 to 18:30. From November 1st to March 31st, from 11:00 to 13:00 and from 16:00 to 18:00. Mondays closed.
Tickets: General: 1,21€; reduced: 0,90€ (groups of 20 minimum); over 15 years old: 0,60€; younger than 15 years old:
Arte Pre-románico Asturiano: Antonio Bonet Correa
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII
L’Art Preroman Hispanique: ZODIAQUE
Ars Hispanie: Tomo II
Arte Asturiano: José Manuel Pita Andrade
Guía del Arte Prerrománico Asturiano: Lorenzo Arias Páramo