CONJUNTO EPISCOPAL 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, its origin goes back to the creation of the Bishopry of Tarrasa, in the middle of the 5th century, although it went through many modifications in later centuries.
- 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.
Terrassa, the old Egara, has existed as a nucleus of population since before the Roman domination and has kept itself in the following years as a centre of importance in the area. Remains of constructions have been found there of the Roman, Early Christian, Visigothic, Carolingian and Romanesque periods, as well as paintings frome some of those phases and later ones. We know it was raised in an independent diocese around the year 450, during the first phase of the Visigothic monarchy and that the bishopry continued until the Arab invasion but it ceased to be the episcopal see although it kept its character of capital of El Vallés.
In this interesting historic environment, a set of three religious constructions have been preserved, where remains of all the periods mentioned mix. Located on a small plateau formed by the confluence of two torrents. Today we find ourselves in front of two churches with a Latin cross shape, Santa María and San Pedro, and a third one, San Miguel, which plan is a Greek cross framed in a square from which overhangs an apse on its eastern side, placed between the two others, a baptistry, most probably. These buildings meet an important set of common characteristics, although they have very different structures and it can be noticed that they went through important modifications since they were built until the 12th century; therefore it is advisable a first view of the ensemble before describing the characteristics that each one of them presents today.
The general plan attached contains the results of several campaigns of partial archeological excavations that have taken place in the plateau along the 20th century, mainly focused in the area of Santa María and its environment. Considering the results of the excavations and the different stages preserved in the present buildings, several building periods may be defined that, from older to newer and with all the necessary reservations of such a complicated subject, we will try to summarize as follows:
A Roman villa, of which also some rests of decorations and inscriptions have been preserved that date them, at least, from the 2nd century.
A first Christian building, basilical of three naves, of 9.40m wide, consdidered to belong to the first times of Christianity in the region.
A basilic that was located in the front part of the present Santa María, and under it in part, facing the east as the building that has reached to this time, and an external baptistry, obviously its contemporary, located at the east of the basilic, before its apse, that is now within Santa María. Both are considered of the same period as the episcopal see of Egara was created.
From the fourth phase, in which we think that the base of the present episcopal ensemble was built, and that its building date is too controversial, and that we will try to study later, the apse and part of the crossing of Santa María have been preserved. Santa María had a three nave (now disappeared) basilical shape, of 18.5m long. To this phase belongs also the complete building of San Miguel and the apse, the whole crossing and the beginning of the present nave of San Pedro, that would also become a three nave church.
Finally, we consider it the last phase all the modifications that the three buildings went through as of the year 1000, consisting at least of the present naves of Santa María and San Pedro, and possibly a part of the supporting and covering elements of all of them.
Leaving aside the Roman villa and the primitive church, of which there is little information and that the building periods do not correspond, in principle, to the purpose of our work, we will tackle basically the two following periods, the most interesting ones that unquestionably form part of the Spanish Pre Romanesque art.
The ensemble that we have considereed contemporary to the creation of the bishopry of Egara, that is, second half of the 5th century, was formed by a basilic and a baptistry. The first was a one nave basilic, rectangular, of 15×8.5m, with an apse, also rectangular in its exterior although with a trapezoidal shape in its interior, of very thick walls, placed in the middle of the east side; another semi circular one on the southern, and possibly a third one, symmetrical to the former one on the northern side. Rests of a big mosaic of poor quality have been preserved on the floor of the nave, and in the apses as well as in other places of the church and in its exterior, several sarcophagus and rests of burials have shown up. The baptistry was octogonal, similar to the one excavated in the basilic of Barcelona, and contained a baptismal font of four convex sides and seven traditional steps that defined the lithurgy of that period. The ensemble of a basilic and an unattached baptistry was frequent in the Spain of the 5th and beginnings of the 6th centuries among the group of Early Christian churches, as the one mentioned in Barcelona and Son Bou (Menorca), Son Peretó (Mallorca), Aljezares (Murcia) or Idhana a Belha in Portugal and many others. However, the fact that it only had one nave with several apses, the main one in an unusual shape, and the existence of burials within and in the surroundings of the church, of which some characteristics can be found in La Cocosa (Badajoz), Vega de Mar (Málaga) or Torre Palma (Portugal), would indicate that it also had influences from the North African style.
When trying to study the constructions of the fourth period we find the most interesting characteristics, but at the same time the bigger doubts as to its origin and the different building stages. Before describing each one of them, it is important to point out beforehand a series of facts:
The episcopal ensemble. As we have defined, it is two churches and a baptistry with the same orientation and with parallel axes, designed evidently as one ensemble. This kind of groups of religious buildings was quite frequent, both in European east and west. They were generally formed by a cathedral church, a baptistry and a third church, martyrial or parochial, that in Terrassa would correspond respectively to Santa María, San Miguel and San Pedro. We can find ensembles of this type and period in Salónica (Greece), Parenzo and Grado (Italy) and Primuliac (France). Also in Vich and Ausona, both of the 9th century, and there is information about their existence long before in Évora and possibly in Toledo and Mérida, also of the Visigothic period.
The building characteristics. The kind of rigging was very regular, based in small ashlars, sometimes alternated with bricks and using in some cases big ashlars well squared in the corners. In the covering, flat tiles are interspersed with curved ones, and a detail to bear in mind is the utilization of Roman amphoras in the interior of the vault of Santa María. This type of building was already known in Roman and Early Christian architecture, very little utilized in Visigothic buildings that have been preserved, but frequent in Carolingian art.
The shape of the apses. A very important detail when trying to study the date the three churches were built, is the funny diversity of shapes shown in the three apses. Whereas the plan of Santa María is a horse shoe arch inlaid in a square, very similar to that of San Fructuoso de Montelius, the one of San Pedro is three-lobed, very frequent in Christian constructions of the 5th and 6th centuries, and recall the plan of the Martirium de La Cocosa (Badajoz), whereas the one of San Miguel is also horse-shoe in its interior but octogonal in its exterior, something very unusual in high medieval European art, but it could have been a local tradition, since a similar plan has been found in the rests of a Visigothic church discovered in the cloister of San Cugat del Vallés. In the three cases they are apses of plan already known in buildings previous to the Arabic invasion, both of them are horse shoe shaped with ther added peculiarity that the access arch and some windows also were horse shoe shaped what, in a way puts it in the middle of the Visigothic 7th century, moving it away from the initial dating in the Carolingian period.
The pictorial decoration. Consists of the existing frescoes in the domes of the apses of Santa María and San Miguel, and in an added altarpiece in the church of San Pedro, covering a window in pronounced horse shoe arch that is still prserved at the exterior of the church. In the first two, the distribution is in concentrical circles, of a shape similar to the dome of Centelles, but with religious motifs that recall us the Mozarabic miniature and that, from our point of view, would belong to the 10th or beginnings of the 11th centuries. In the case of San Pedro, the altarpiece contains six rounded arches upon columns and capitals, and the pictorial decoration, that seems somewhat later, is within and around the arches. Besides, after the reconstruction in the 12th century, some interesting Romanesque frescoes were added.
The historical events. As we have seen, the bishopry of Egara existed only between the half of the 5th century and the Arabic invasion, and it must have reached its zenith, since in the councils of that century there are multiple references to the successive bishops. After the Reconquest it never recovered the same importance within the Catalonian church. If we watch the different building stages in parallel with their history, we find ourselves with a first ensemble of church and baptistry, that we think it corresponds to its first period as bishopry. Then an episcopal ensemble of great importance appears, and finally, a reconstruction of part of two of the churches and possibly of the whole covering system of the third one. But in this reconstruction, after the attack where Almanzor devastated a great part of Catalonia in 985, the size of two of them was reduced and went from three to one nave, and what had been the cathedral church, is shortened, we suppose because it did not have that rank any longer.
1- Creation of the Bishopry of Terrassa: First episcopal ensemble formed by the one nave basilic and the octogonal baptistry that have appeared in the excavations. Second half of the 5th century.
2- Zenith of the Bishopry: Building of the second episcopal ensemble: two three-nave basilics and a baptistry. End of the 7th century.
3- Settling of the Catalonian March: Pictorial decoration at least in the apses of Santa María and San Miguel. 9th or 10th centuries.
4- Romanesque Reconstruction: Possibly motivated by the destruction of part of the ensemble in times of Almanzor, that seems to have specially affected the naves of the two basilics -maybe flat roof covered- and part of the covering system of San Miguel, the damages were restored completing the part that had been saved, but bringing down the number of naves from three to one, remaking part of the support system of San Miguel and adding the altarpiece of San Pedro. Beginnings of the 12th century.
Other interesting information
Address: Plaza del Rector 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 to Saturdays: Mornings from 10 to 13:30 hours. Afternoons from 16 to 19 hours Sundays from 11 to 14 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