ERMITA DE SANTA CECILIA
The file of this Mozarabic hermitage has been developed with the collaboration of our contributor Diego Alonso, who, after visiting it has provided us with the information and photographs herein used
- Referred for the first time in a diploma in 924.
- Built by the end of the 9th century or beginnings of the 10th, it suffered the effect of the incursions of Almanzor and was restored in the 12th century, when the present door and the portico were added.
St. Cecilia is a church built in ashlar stone and rubble, formed by a single rectangular nave of 8.37m by 4.37m and a square apse of around 2m by side, facing east, both with gabled roofs. Today it also has a Romanesque portico attached on the southern side, also with good framework based on well engraved ashlars and a square tower, erected upon the apse in masonry of worse quality than the rest of the church and with difficult to precise dating, but evidently built later.
At present the only access door is placed on the southern side. It belongs to the modification in Roman times, and it is believed to be from the 12th century, and it is formed by a double semicircular arch upon imposts and jambs. It has a simple but beautiful decoration in which it is surprising to find the ressemblance of its impost with the kind of carving found in the friezes of Quintanilla de las Viñas, at a distance of mere 45 Km, both, for the technique used and for its decorative design consisting of undulating flower stems with three leaves on the inflections, of clear Visigothic precedent.
Also on the southern wall we can appreciate the lintels of two doors, now blocked, that must have belonged to the original design. Beside the entrance door there are two windows of loophole type in horseshoe arch that also correspond to the Mozarabic phase. The church has also two windows on the apse, one of them on the sidewall, of lattice window type with the shape of a cross delimitted by five circles, and another one on its southern side, very narrow with double slanting In the western gable end -where it is undoubtly that it never had any doors- there is a large window, opened during the restructuring at the end of the 19th century, possibly replacing the original one, smaller in size.
There are no decorations inside and we find only two areas, the nave and the apse, separated by a horseshoe arch that may be considered as the most characteristic element of the whole ensemble. It was modified in the 12th century by lowering the laterals of the horseshoe to make it look more Romanesque, but in 1889 the monks of Silos set, as if it were imposts, two ashlars ending in curve on the arch spring in order to return its original horseshoe shape. Although the voussoirs lack decoration, nor there is any drip cap, it is known that until 1974 there was a protruding stone above the upper voussoirs that had an emptying cross, at present preserved in Silos, as well as a holy water stoup carved on a quadrangular ashlar and with an interesting decoration of a much earlier period, that was also moved to Silos.
Whereas the nave has a wooden gabled cover, rebuilt in 1889, the apse is covered by a semispherical vault upon pendentives, built with large roughstones, a usual solution in Byzantine architecture, that recalls the one of the Baptistry of Gabia Grande, although it is more likely that its use in Spain of the beginnings of the 10th century had come from the influence generated by the important artistic relationships in those times between Al Andalus and Byzantium.
The history we know about this hermitage coincides with the characteristics of the building that has reached these times. In fact, the first documentary proof of St. Cecilia is a diploma from 924, in the middle of the resettlement in this area, when the lords of their domains emancipated the church, that it seems it served for over a hundred years as the parish church of Tabladillo, a district now disappeared but that was an independent town of relative importance both, during the Roman domination as well as during the first centuries of the reconquest. Later on, in 1041, after the area suffered the incursions of Almanzor, the hermitage passes to the lordship of St. Pedro de Arlanza and in 1125 to St. Domingo de Silos’, from which it would be dependent until the disentailment of 1835.
All that coincides undoubtly with the datation, that we may suppose based on the characteristics of the building, since, both, for the typology of the horseshoe arch of the apse, as well as for the kind of covering of the chevet, the windows, also horseshoe shaped, and for the fact -quite meaningful- that the access door was on the the southern side, something usual in Mozarabic architecture, different to Visigothic architecture that used to place the main door on the opposite gable end to the chevet, it seems clear that we are in front of a Mozarabic construction that, for its size, simplicity of structure and few or even inexistent decoration, must have been one of the buildings of this kind of the end of the 9th or beginnings of the 10th centuries, what perfectly fits with the diploma of the donation of 924.
Along the same line, the Romanesque enlargement, when the portico was added and the access door was replaced, must correspond to the first years of Silo’s dependence, although it is still to be known whether the tower upon the apse was built during this phase or in some other time.
The hermitage of St. Cecilia is an interesting example of the first art of the resettlement in the province of Burgos, less monumental than the Leonese Mozarabic and in a different spirit, maybe on account of being a zone more exposed to the Arab attacks and that it was repopulated greatly by peoples from the north, with less participation of Christians from Al Andalus that in León or in the west of Castille.
Other interesting information
Access: Exit Burgos through A-1, direction Madrid. At around 6Km take exit 230 to N234, direction Soria. At 19Km take BU-901 until Covarrubias. Take BU-902 until Santibáñez del Val, then instead of following towards Silos, take the local road that drives directly to Barriosuso. Around 55Km in total. GPS Coordinayes: 41° 57′ 58.4022″N 3° 28′ 26.2338″W.
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomos III, VI y VII *
Preroman Hispanique: ZODIAQUE