ERMITA DE SANTA CRUZ DE MONTES
The hermitage, known as ‘de la Santa Cruz’ – which is currently outside the monastic enclosure of San Pedro de Montes, delimited by a stone fence – formed part of the Ruphianense monastery (later known as San Pedro de Montes ) practically from the moment of its foundation, since it was erected – according to Valerio del Bierzo – by a disciple of his named Saturnino on the place where Saint Fructuoso used to pray, a place remembered by a cross.
The hermitage was located, according to Father Yepes, “two musket shots from San Pedro de Montes […] on top of a cliff on the river Oza; Today, it preserves the memory of when it was founded, thanks to an inscription that is in stone, next to the altar, which contains these words: IT WAS NONE HUNDRED AND THIRTEENTH CALENDAS OCTOBRIS (it was 910, the third day before the October calends = 29 September 872) IN HONOREM SANCTE CRUCIS, SANCTE MARIAE, SANCTI IOANNIS BAPTISTAE, SANCTI MARTINI, SANCTI IACOBI, SANCTI CLEMENTIS, ERA…”. These humble epigraphic testimonies –which are essential when reconstructing the genesis of this “brevi opere”- were originally found, according to Fray Prudencio de Sandoval, in a “< i>small light, above the main altar. The lights entered through the two arches…” of a modest hermitage that was replaced by another “carved in the year 1723[…]”.
It is evident that what is now known as the current ‘hermitage of the Holy Cross’ is not the one that the chroniclers managed to see (or described for them), since according to the testimony of the former, it is the one “carved in the year 1723 [… ] on the royal road that goes from the monastery to La Granja, and to Ponferrada, on whose door the inscription was placed…”. The original hermitage – currently unknown from an archaeological perspective – was about 20 meters above the current one. Was the Saturnino factory a free-standing building or was it a cave or cave-like area probably completed with ligneous, straw, etc., constructions? Díaz y Díaz already began to analyze this question in depth from the texts of San Valerio and came to the conclusion that it was a rock shelter, a rock or semi-rock space, which is related to other environments in northern Spain. However, and based on the Valerian texts, it may be that the templum built by Saturnino was endowed with a certain monumentality, since for its construction he had the generous help of the faithful, who provided him with workers for the construction site. In addition, the building was consecrated by the Bishop of Astorga, Aurelio, in the decade 683-693.
This small hermitage, carved in 1722-1723, is the one that is now next to the old path that led from Montes de Valdueza to Ponferrada; a brevi opere erected from masonry and slate slabs equipped with a woody gabled roof, rectangular in plan and a single open access on its western façade.
The remains located in the hermitage rebuilt in 1723 may come (and the main dedication to the Holy Cross seems to certify it) from that oratorium erected by Saturnino, a disciple of San Valerio, and consecrated by the astorgano bishop Aurelio.
Among the remains of the first building erected by Saturnino – “pieces of Visigothic art” – it would be necessary to include – according to Gómez-Moreno- several pieces that could be dated to the end of the s. VII: one (which perhaps could have belonged to a gate) was cut as a mullion and appears decorated with serpentine stems; the other two were bevel carved, one with geometric motifs – circles and squares – and the other with vegetal decoration – based on a double stem braid and ivy leaves -, which were reused as limestone pilasters (one acting as a jamb and another threshold).
And among the latter, among those belonging to a possible early medieval building, it is worth highlighting an equilateral cross whose arms hang the letters alpha and omega and a 28 x 28 cm relief. carved on an ashlar with remains of reddish polychromy in its background. And, finally, a monolithic lintel belonging to a small mullioned opening or double window of which only part of two small incomplete molded arches sheltered by alfiz (42 cm wide) have been preserved; Whether this twin opening was a horseshoe or semicircular is something that we do not know given its current state. And its provenance is also unknown: from Saturnino’s oratorium? From the monastic church of Montes?
And next to these decorative remains appears, as already indicated, the epigraphic group that we mentioned before; on the one hand, under the Alfonsine cross, above the arches, and preserving traces of reddish polychromy: AECE SCE CRUCIS. And on the right edge: ECCE [SIGNUM] S[AN]C[TA]E CRUCIS”. And on the other hand, the granite board, which records the saints to whom the hermitage was dedicated and the date of its consecration, December 1, 904. Everything indicates that the preserved epigraphic remains come from an early medieval building – Dedicated to the Holy Cross and probably consecrated on December 1, 904, in the time of Abbot Gennadio – of whom we currently have no documentary or archaeological evidence.
The described epigraphic and decorative remains were partially stolen in 2007, and thanks to a research project led by the Ponferrada City Council, the preserved originals are kept in a safe place, while 3D copies, identical to the originals, were relocated in the hermitage .
Other interesting information
Access: To access its interior, contact the monastery of San Pedro de Montes.
– GONZÁLEZ RODRÍGUEZ, R., 2008: “Los relieves altomedievales de la ermita de la Santa Cruz de Montes de Valdueza”, Revista del Instituto de Estudios Bercianos, 53-78.
– BALBOA DE PAZ, A., 2007: “Ermita de la Santa Cruz”, in: Yo Camino, Catálogo de la Exposición, Las Edades del Hombre, Ponferrada, 135-136.
– MARTÍNEZ TEJERA, Artemio M., 1995: “San Pedro de Montes y la ermita de la Santa Cruz”, Historia 16 nº 227 (Madrid), 112-117.
– VIÑAYO GONZÁLEZ, A., 1990: “Inscripción del siglo X (Santa Cruz de Montes)”, in: Libros y Documentos en la iglesia de León y Castilla, Catálogo Exposición, Las Edades del Hombre, Burgos, nº 24, 84-86.