It is one of the few enough documented monuments of this period. We are certain it was built by San Fructuoso as his own mausoleum, what means it was built between 656, when he was appointed bishop of Braga, and 665, the year of his death. Now it is attached to a Franciscan church; rediscovered in 1897 and restored in 1931, a work that has been very controversial.
Its structure is clearly the one of a cruciform church,
upon one Greek cross shaped plan, which in each arm has the external shape of a square, whereas
internally, each one of them, except the western one, where the door is, harbors an apse of a very pronounced horse shoe plan. The arms join in the transept, communicated with each one of them through three horse shoe arches, being the central one wider than the lateral ones. These three arches are inlaid within another big blind arch, also horse shoe, upon which raises each transept wall forming a lantern, covered by a dome upon squinches built with bricks. The arms, except the entrance’s, that is covered by a barel vault, were also covered with domes, in this case supported by columns, six in the apse and four in the laterals that, forming a small ambulatory, left the space for worship very reduced. The lighting is achieved by double horse shoe windows, placed at each side of the transept and on each arm, except the one in the entrance.
Built with rigging of squared ashlars, it has an interesting external decoration, formed by traingular pediments, blind series of arches in the lateral walls alternating triangles and round arches upon a classical type wreathed plinth, a narrow frieze, and in the crossing tower, a cornice with decoration of arches and small blind triangles, that seem to lean on now disappeared columns. The whole external decoration is independent from the shape of the ashlars, as if it were engraved on them.
In the interior there is also a frieze, similar to the external one; Corinthian type capitals expressly engraved for this church, as well as the large frieze that goes along the church at the same height as the capitals. The decorations is imitation of Roman style, but of a much better quality than the one in the Roman period in this area.
This church is fundamental to know the evolution of Visigothic architecture in the 7th century, its century of splendor. From the first Arrian churches, the Visigothic architecture was modifying the plan of its churches, possibly for lithurgy conditionings, starting with the classical basilical structure of three naves with flat roofs and one or three apses, by including pseudocrossings of very different shape, like Cabeza de Griego or Recópolis, until getting to structures with a chevet as complex as in San Juan de Baños, built in 661 and Santa Lucía del Trampal.
Suddenly, a bishop, of clear oriental vocation -was arrested by the king Recesvinto, that considered mandatory his presence in Spain, when he was preparing his trip to the East- shatters all the established preconceptions and build a mausoleum-church, totally vaulted, with a structure almost identical to the mausoleum of Gala Placidia in Rávena. It imitates externally and internally many details of San Vital, also in Rávena and located within its same premises.
With regard to the design of its plan and external structure, it is almost an exact copy, although of a much better quality and somewhat more stylised because proportionally it is higher, of the monument of Gala Placidia. There are other similarities with it, like the building being totally vaulted and that it is also a funerary monument, although in this case it seems to be a sign of humility. San Fructuoso did not place the grave in the centre of the church, but in the niches of the northern wall of the chevet. However, on entering the church, the interior environment with its central structure and triple arcades inlaid within archea of a bigger size, is very different to that mausoleum and very much recalls the one of the near by church of San Vital, although our church has much more humble proportions.
This kind of churches of cruciform plan and with multiple series of arches, although very frequent in Byzantine architecture
of the times of Justiniano, may be considered totally novel in Visigothic Spain. But the most important thing is that, starting with it, all the previous doubts disappeared with regard to the design of its churches, at least in the ones located in rural areas, as we do not know how their building were in the cities, and we start to find this same design in later churches, generally cruciform and totally vaulted, like Santa Comba de Bande, located in the same bishopry and built some 20 years later, San Pedro de la Mata and Santa María de Melque, both in rural areas in the vicinity of Toledo, the three with one niche, what shows its funerary character, although later some lateral quarters were added to be used as monastic churches. The development of the cruciform plans, which origin, we insist, is in San Fructuoso de Montelios, continued in the last years of the Visigothic monarchy in churches like San Pedro de la Nave and Quintanilla de las Viñas, built already as monastic churches, in which the lateral quarters exist since their original design instead of having been added later, as we think happened with the previous ones.
Other interesting information
Access: Freeway E01 for 51Km northbound. Leave by N-14 to Braga for 3Km. From Braga drive towards the northwest to Ponte de Lima. San Fructuoso is at 3Km in the neighborhood of São Jerónimo Real, at the end of a small square.
GPS Coordinates: 41º 33′ 37,34″ N 8º 26′ 19,47″ W.
Information telephone: Câmara Municipal de Braga: 253203150, 253610631. e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo III
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII
L’Art Préroman Hispanique: ZODIAQUE
Ars Hispanie: Tomo II
Arte Hispanovisigodo: Pedro de Palol
Ravena: Ville de la mosaique: Edition