With 8.5m long, 3.85m wide and a maximum of 6m high, it is the smallest Mozarabic church that we know of. As stated in a document of beginnings of the 11th century, this small oratorium was built very near to the Monastery of Celanova in 936 by San Rosendo de Dumio in memory of his brother Froila, its founder. It seems that originally it was an hospitiolotium and, therefore, its purpose was to serve as lodgings for the monks that were just passing through and did not belong to the monastery.
Built in excellent masonry in the tradition of the best Visigothic art of the 7th century, it has a small square nave, without any lateral compartments, a small anteroom or vestibule and a tiny apse, separated between them by horse shoe arches extended up to 2/3 of their
radius and framed by a drip cap moulding. The fact that the central nave is considerably wider than the apse and the vestibule, produces a certain sensation of a cruciform church, in the style of Santa Comba de Bande, a Visigothic church of the 7th century, just 16Km far from Celanova and, above all, like San Fructuoso de Montelios, located in Braga (Portugal), also very close, which it also recalls for the quality of the masonry used in its building.
San Miguel counts with just one exterior door, linteled and placed, as usual with Mozarabic churches, in the southern side, although in this case its is not in the middle of the church but in the vestibule; and four windows, all of them trumpet shaped, very narrow and finishing in horse shoe arches, one in the apse, another one in the vestibule and the other two in the upper part of the eastern and western sides
of the main chamber, which is covered by a four pitched roof that ends in a great eave formed by big granite slabs, supported by large stone modillions, decorated with eight and in some cases up to ten hewn lobes, typically Mozarabic, and leaning on an horizontal edge that goes along the four walls, so that the roof forms a big projection producing a greater sensation of gracefulness. It is also interesting to notice that there are four buttresses similar to the ones of previous Asturian constructions, two at the sides of the central nave and two other in the vestibule; it seems that their purpose was to enhance the sensation of verticality rather than for structural requirements.
What lends this small chapel a special importance in the study of Mozarabic architecture is the fact that the covering in each one of the three bodies, the three of them vaulted, different styles have been used, what turns it in an authentic showcase of the vaulting methods used in that style. The main chamber is covered with a groin vault in brick, supported by a stilted arch that starts from corbels in scrolls, raised enough so as to open the two windows we have
referred to in the eastern and western walls. The vault of the vestibule is a horse shoe , leaning upon a base moulding and the apse is covered by a vault formed by the intersection of eight spherical caps, so that, although its external shape is a square, the internal one forms a very enclosed horse shoe, of a radius of 1.35m, which reminds more an Arabic mihrab than a Christian apse, since it leaves a very small space around a small altar of a much later period.
The struture of San Miguel de Celanova reminds in many cases Santiago de Peñalba’s, as if it had been started from that model to raise a much smaller building, for what the lateral compartments and the contrasted apse have been eliminted, but with similar characteristics. In fact we find here again a higher central nave between another nave and an apse much smaller and lower, square externally and horse shoe shaped internally. We also find, among other coincidences, very refined covering forms, buttresses and eaves supported by scroll modillions. There are many reasons to think that they were built by the same architect, specially for the mastery of the different kinds of vaults since, in spite of using very sophisticated systems for that period, both buildings have survived without any important damages. However, it seems evident that in Celanova the quality of construction was superior,
as if in that area of Galicia the building tradition of the Visigothic art of the 7th century had been maintained for more than two hundred years.
The final result is that in this small building of less than 22m2 we can demonstrate unquestionably the relationship between Visigothic art and its successor, the Mozarabic art that, as we have mentioned, from our point of view it should be denominated “Neovisigothic”. In fact, all in it is a chant to eclecticism that lets builders follow their criterium in each building the artistic or technical elements known at every moment, without having to abide to pre fixed norms, what generates a creational freedom that we consider the most meaningful characteristic of these two periods of Spanish high medieval art. In San Miguel de Celanova we find elements taken from San Fructuoso de Montelios, like the type of construction, the appearance of the cruciform structure and its external looks in general together with some detail of Asturian art, like the buttresses; all of that joined to covering techniques and, maybe the most important, the Arabic sensitivity in all details of the interior, from the decoration of the vaults and the horse shoe arches with drip cap to the treatment of the light, based in narrow windows with internal embrasure and the four located to light the interior at two levels, producing a bigger sensation of depth to a space of such small proportions.
Other interesting information
Access: From Orense take OU-540 to Celanova. Total distance: 25Km.
GPS Coordinates: 42º 9′ 8,20″N 7º 57′ 24,73″W.
Information telephone: Tourist office at the Monastery: 9220.127.116.11, is closed, confirm the tfno.646.026.421..
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visiting hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 12h30 to 16h.
Imagen del Arte Mozárabe; José Fernández Arenas
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII
L’Art Préroman Hispanique – L’Art Mozarabe: ZODIAQUE