Basílica de Casa Herrera
The archaeological site of Casa Herrera is located in the vicinity of Mérida, about 6 kilometers northeast of the city. It is known for the existence of a church with opposing apses, a rare early Christian typology; however, the temple is only one part of a much larger settlement of late ancient and early medieval chronology not yet fully known. It was discovered by J. C. Serra i Rafols in 1943, who in those years he was commissioner of excavations stationed in Mérida. Shortly thereafter he began an archaeological excavation to determine the nature of the columns and other remains visible on the surface. The archaeologist soon understood that they are not working from a villa, but from a church linked to a monastic complex.
Three decades later, L. Caballero and T. Ulbert undertook new excavations to complete the previous works, freeing the interior of the building from the strata that amortized it. In the 1980s, T. Ulbert would once again intervene in the place, defining, thanks to the data obtained in the surveys, the existence of a stable settlement that is difficult to interpret.
In 2007 T. Cordero and I. Sastre carried out new excavations to try to shed light on a singular site, coming to determine the existence of a human settlement extending in time from the Low Empire to the 8th century.
Although the first hypotheses held that the basilica was the temple of a monastery whose formal characteristics seemed to link it with contemporary North African monasteries, the latest interventions tend to understand Casa Herrera as a peri-urban rural settlement organized around its parish, a settlement dedicated to the exploitation farmer of the area’s agricultural resources.
The building has a basilica plan and a large size; its length reaches 15 meters; three naves separated by two lines of 6 white marble columns articulate the interior partitioning; At the east and west ends of the central nave there are apses following the model of the facing apses, making up one of the few examples with this typology existing in the Iberian Peninsula. The aforementioned apses are highly developed in plan, in the one located to the east the altar table was located, in the west it is very likely that the relics of a saint or martyr were kept. In the central nave, wider than the lateral ones, two longitudinal parallel walls were raised, the use of which is unknown.
Outside the temple, near the eastern apse, is the baptistery. It is a rectangular, long and narrow structure arranged in an East-West direction, with a double stairway with seven steps on each side and a deep central pool to practice the rite of baptism by immersion, something typical of the religious architecture of primitive Christianity.
At present, only the plan and some courses of its walls that rise beyond the foundations are preserved. The last works carried out have consisted of conservation, restoration and adaptation to the visit.
The different archaeological excavations exhumed abundant remains of great artistic quality of architectural sculpture, sepulchral inscriptions and sarcophagi that show the cultic and funerary use of the building over a long period of close to four centuries. Many of the aforementioned archaeological remains can be enjoyed in the permanent exhibition of the Visigoth Section belonging to the National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida.
Víctor Gibello for URBS REGIA
Other interesting information
The visit must be requested from the Merida Consortium
Caballero Zoreda, L. y Ulbert, T.: La Basílica paleocristiana de Casa Herrera en las cercanías de Mérida (Badajoz), Madrid, 1975.
Cordero Ruíz, T. y Sastre de Diego, I.: “El yacimiento de Casa Herrera en el contexto del territorio emeritense (siglos IV-VIII)”, Las ciudades del Mediterráneo.
ULBERT, T.:“Basílica de Casa Herrera. Mérida.” En Mateos, P. y Caballero, L. (Eds.) Repertorio de Arquitectura cristiana en Extremadura: 67-73. Mérida. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2003.