IGLESIA DE VALDECEBADAR
Thanks: To our collaborator from Valencia, José Gil Rodrigo, a lover of Spanish High Medieval Art, who has furnished us with the informaion and photographs that have been utilized in this file.
- Discovered and studied in 1976 by Thilo Ulbert, from the German Archeological Institute.
- Several excavation campaigns that still continue.
- Without any official status of preservation.
Visigothic church of Valdecedabar, or better stated, its remains, belongs to the group of discovered monuments of the High Middle Ages in a relatively recent period.
Its finding in the sixties was a hopeful news for Archeology, that let think that there could be still lots to discover. But, unfortunately, Valdecebadar is not a building but just a plan of a building, hardly a sketched structure on the ground; remains of walls of little height.
Any trace of decoration, columns, pilasters, etc. disappeared a long time ago and only the plan and a few foundations and support elements let us deduct its original features. It is only possible to locate the remnants of the church if somebody who knows the place would indicate us the exact situation, since not a single detail makes it noticeable in the farming fields.
The finding is attributed to the German Archeological Institute, and specifically to Thilo Ulbert in 1967/68. In that time he draw a plan (attached), probably the only existing one, that indicates the position of some foundation structures, a baptismal immersion font and a group of tombs in the interior and the surroundings, made of bricks and tegulae, typical of late Roman-Visigothic burials. Another strange detail in Valdecebadar is the position of the single identified access door, at the extreme south of the transept, an atypical feature on a church unquestionable classified as Visigothic.
Other studies took place later, among those, a new campaign in 2001-2003 conducted by Ulbert himself (Head of the German Archeological Institute by then), Christoph Eger and Luis Caballero Zoreda, among others. The attached photographs are from those times.
After the end of the studies the remains were adequately covered with isolating cloth and gravel, what we highly value as Archeology lovers, since not always the archeological remains are left properly protected once the campaign is over.
There are references that the ground is opus signinum, well preserved, but it cannot be verified because of the protective coating. The building has a Greek cross plan with arms around 18m long, an almost perfect cross and we say "almost" for the usual aversion of medieval builders against right angles. The buildings usually have plans of rough irregular geometry as well as anomalies in the orientation of the chevet towards east, orthodox, as is clearly the case of Marialba de la Ribera (with its sidewall pointing to the south), whereas in Vadecebadar it is perfectly oriented.
From the classical Greek cross figure, three sections emerge: towards east, a chevet with external straightline layout and semicircular interior, in very closed horseshoe shape, exceeding on a third of ots radius.
The access to a large square room opens on the eastern wall of the northern arm of the cross. The room has similar dimensions to any of the four cross arms (see plan attached), that fills the north-east cavity of the cross. In this room a baptismal immersion font was discovered with two small, three stepped staircase flights, very similar to the one in Aljezares. The differentiation of spaces that traditionally differentiates the two sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist, rests so underlined because of this arrangement, annexed and isolated from the baptistry (Ulbert).
Strangely, this room does not take any advantage of the northern wall of the eastern arm of the cross, but it counts with its own southern wall, what leaves a strange space between both walls, without any understandable usefulness. The third section is another square big room with almost identical dimensions to the former one and unknown usefulness that fills the south eastern cavity of the cross. Its access is through the southern wall of the eastern arm of the cross base. It is a sort of vestry that, as before, has its own western closing wall instead of using the eastern wall of the southern arm, what would have been more logical and economical. As in the former case, there is an useless space between both walls without any building explanation.
It is riskful to imagine the church's original shape and its evolution:
Some authors note down that initially it was a three nave and three chevet temple, that went under a complete structural reformation. Likewise its function is to be determined: mausoleum, monastery chapel (unlikely, according to Caballero Zureda and Ulbert due to the presence of a baptistry) or a late Roman large estate. The shapes of Valdecebadar illustrate the transition from the basilical shape of Roman origin that we see in San Juan de Baños, with its three naves and almost certain triple chevet with square, separated apses (Fontaine), like the ones that survive in St. Lucía del Trampal, the shapes, clearly Visigothic by then, based on central symmetry and Greek cross plan, like in San Pedro de la Nave, San Fructuoso de Montélios, Santa Comba de Bande, la Dehesa de la Cocosa or even Melque.
The structureof the inner space would go from the clear field of thre basilical shape to the fragmentation based in inner arches delimitting the arms of the cross. The lack of vertical elements prevent the deduction of the real structure of Valdecebadar but the support upon the inner angles of the cruciform plan, and the centre of the sides of the central square suggest there existed inner arches -double arches on this occasion (Palol)- instead of triple arches like in Montelios, and its function, besides a decorative one, could have been as a dome's support.
This fragmentation of the inner space in small, dark and cryptic spaces was most likely associated with the worship's peculiarities, the separation of the faithful by degrees of initiation, and the corresponding division of the space with inner doors or even with curtains.
This feature of Valdecebadar is far from the clarity of the inner space that is supposed to be the structural model of all Visigothic churches with Greek cross plan: the so called Mausoleum of Gala Placidia in Ravenna. The atomization of the inner spaces goes up to the Mozarabic period, for example, with the maze type shapes of the interior of St. María de Lebeña, and only disappears with the arrival of the Romanesque art, its new spatial concepts and the end of oriental intent rituals.
The interesting remnants of Valdecebadar are those that recall that the fondness for Archeology is, to a great extent, imagination: in fact, the few visible features, punished as times goes by and by indifference, are the only clues for trying to imagine how those centuries were, that some unfairly call them "the dark centuries" of High Middle Ages.
Other interesting information
Access: The remains of the Visigothic church of Valdecebadar lie in the interior of a private farm at the north of Olivenza, Badajoz, called Cortijo de Valdecebadar, that in some maps call Valdecebadal. Coordinates GPS: 38º 44' 22.89" N 7º 5' 16.87" W.
Information phone numbers: Ayuntamiento de Olivenza: 924492934 and Cortijo de Valdecebadar: 924492935.
Visiting hours: Call. An authorisation from the cortijo's owner is required
Thilo Ulbert: Die westgotenzeitliche Kirche von Valdecebadar
bei Olivenza (Prov. Badajoz) (Madrider Mitteilungen Nº. 14, págs. 202-216,
Thilo Ulbert, Christoph Eger: Valdecebadar bei Olivenza (Badajoz): Neue Untersuchungen in der kreuzförmigen Kirche und ihrem Umfeld Madrider Mitteilungen, Nº. 47, págs. 221-252, 2006).
Pedro de Palol, Gisela Ripoll: Los godos en el occidente europeo. Ostrogodos y visigodos en los siglos V-VIII (Ediciones Encuentro, Madrid, 1988).
Jacques Fontaine: El Prerrománico **(Ediciones Encuentro, Madrid, 1978)
Pedro Mateos Cruz, Luis Caballero Zoreda: Repertorios de Arquitectura Cristiana en Extremadura - Epoca Tardoantigua y Altomedieval (Anejos de AEspA XXIX, Instituto de Arqueología de Mérida - CSIC, 2003).