SANTA MARÍA DE LEBEÑA
- Declared National Monument on March 27th, 1893.
- During the 18th century the existing portico was added as well as an attached tower, now disappeared.
- A complete restoration took place in 1896 when the attached tower was replaced by an unattached one; the whole building was consolidated with a roof, the addition of a few new modillons and a new stone floor replaced the old one.
The monastery of Liébana was a trascendental place both, religious and political, since the first times of the Reconquest. Beato de Liébana, who lived in the second half of the 8th century, very near the place where our church was built two centuries later, not only has been of great importance for his "Comments to the Apocalypse", that served as a model for one of the most important developments of miniature in the west of Europe along all its history, and for the discussion, supported by the Roman and French Churches, with Elipando de Toledo on the Adeptionist theory of this Mozarabic bishop, but also for his influence in the Asturian court, and for the collaboration of his unquestionable reputation in all Christian Europe, in the creation of the myth of Santiago de Compostela. The work of this man, so important in all the meaningful areas of his time, except in the military field, was fundamental in replacing Toledo, until then the main see of Christianity and located in territories dominated by the Arabs, into Santiago de Compostela in the Christian kingdom of Asturias, as the religious centre of the peninsula.
Only 12Km far from San Toribio de Liébana -that by then its name was San Martín- in a small plateau that forms an oasis of vegetation within an impressive mountain environment, we find one of the most beautiful and best preserved monuments of Spanish art of the 10th century. It is in the chartulary of that monastery where we find the documents that inform that it was founded by Alfonso and Justa, counts of Liébana, possibly Mozarabic from Sevilla, around 924, which means that it was built somewhat later than Santa María de Wamba, San Miguel de Escalada and San Cebrián de Mazote and contemporary to Sahagún and Peñalba.
Built in masonry with big ashlars in the corners, its plan of 16m long by 12m wide, very similar to Wamba's, in which it could have been inspired, has the shape of a Greek cross, inlaid in a rectangle, almost a square, from which three flat apses hang out; the central one a bit longer, of the same width as the central nave; the laterals are trapezoid shaped, a bit narrower than the corresponding naves. Its plan is clearly related with the ones of the set of Visigothic cruciform churches, that gave origin to the importation of the model of the Mausoleum of Gala Placidia in Rávena for the building of San Fructuoso de Montelios that, from our viewpoint, as we have mentioned, it was followed in churches like Santa Comba de Bande, San Pedro de la Mata, Santa María de Melque or San Miguel de Tarrasa, and that it would continue so in Carolingian constructions like Germiny-des-Prés. But in Lebeña its is also very meaningful the influence of Asturian art in the shape of its tripartite chevet, flat and irregular, as well as the three compartments in the opposite side, that recall the porticos of the Asturian churches, where probaly the main entrance was, later replaced by the now lateral door when the portico in the southern side was added.
If we leave aside its portico, its external image, in which each compartment corresponds to a level and a type of differentiated cover, it recalls San Miguel de Tarrasa, except that in the two front stretches of the central nave they form an only element much higher than the rest of the church (the portico was built at the same time than the vestry in the northern side, in the 18th century, for which also the western part of the southern wall was modified and the roof of the chamber in the southwest angle, leaving in the air a beautiful set of modillions in its interior). The outcome is a bueautiful set of eleven roofs, eight from the basic square, and the chevet's three, independent, at different heights, and all of them gable roofs, except the one modified to link with the portico, finishing in big eaves made of stone floor tiles supported by decorated modillions, so frequent in Mozarabic constructions that, on their turn, they lean upon horizontal stripes, also decorated. The result is a well proportioned ensemble and of great beauty located in an impressive landscape.
But its interior is more impactful, divided in twelve squares, all communicated between them except the two lateral compartments in the west side and the two lateral apses, that in both cases are separated from the central one by closed walls. For the covering system, independent in all stretches, it has not been used any of the usual techniques in Mozarabic constructions, going back to the Visigothic and Asturian ones, since all spaces are covered by barrel vaults at different levels, placed longitudinally in the central nave, the chevet and the three central compartments of the lateral naves, whereas in the two central compartments of the lateral naves, they are placed perpendicular to the high vault of the central nave, providing stronger consistency to the ensemble with a solution we have already seen in the chevet of the Visigothic church of Santa Lucía del Trampal and in the lateral naves of the Ramirense San Miguel de Lillo. The access arches to the three apses are round arches; the central one framed in a drip cap, the rest of the spaces are communicated through horse shoe arches, extended 1/3 and ½ of its radius, except the two lateral compartments of the west side, that are closed and with linteled doors. The arches lean upon columns attached to the walls in the lateral ones and to pilasters, similar to those frequent in Asturian monuments, in the two central ones.
In its internal structure we see again an interesting symbiosis between Visigothic art, Asturian art and the Arabic influence, although the plan's basic design corresponds to a Visigothic cruciform church, if access were gained from what must have been its original entrance, on the west wall, the sensation on going into the church would be the one of a three nave Asturian basilic, a sensation reinforced byby the round arches of the apses, the vision of the high longitudinal vault of the two central stretches, and for the triple west arcade. However, the present access is located at the southern side and also off-centered with regard to the transverse axe and presents an oblique perspective, totally different, of horse shoe arches, columns, capitals and independent vaults at different levels in every space, generating a clear appearance of an Arabic mosque.
This feeling of independence of the different spaces is stressed by the difference of height of the vaults, what also produces arches practically of the same size but with diferent heights between the different compartments, for what a very original solution has been chosen through the utilization of columns of different height attached to the same pillar, all of them cylindrical upon Athenian bases, finishing in Corynthian type capitals, with vegetal decoration and Asturian wreathed collars, and keel mouldings upon them in the shape of truncated pyramid. The final result, of surprising aesthetics is that at each side of a pillatser there are columns and capitals, very similar, but staggered, forming a sort of optical spiral that increases the sensation of lightness of the ensemble.
A special mention deserves the sculptoric decoration in the church's interior and exterior, where we also find Visigothic, Asturian and Mozarabic precedents. In the interior is worth noticing a big slab that was showing its rear face in the front of the altar and its parish priest put it to sight in the middle of the last century. It is decorated with a big circle of 90cm diameter that has a 16 radius svastica inlaid surrounded by other six decorated rosettes, all Visigothic type or maybe earlier. The whole set of Corynthian type capitals with two or three rows of acanthus leaves is clearly Mozarabic, similar to those of Mazote, although with wreathed collars, typical in Asturian art.
In the exterior, besides the very narrow windows ending in horse shoe arch engraved in a stone, with interior embrasure, it is interesting to notice the Visigothic influence in the decoration of modillions -restored at the end of the 19th century when the unattached tower that did not exist in the original church-, formed by 4 to 6 circles on each side, where there are svasticas engraved and six branch rosettes, and in the friezes that support them, that include vegetal and geometrcal drawings that recall those of San Juan de Baños.
In summary, Santa María de Lebeña is a monument that has to be visited, not only for being a Pre Romanesque construction of great beauty and interest, but also for being one of the works where the fusion between the Visigothic, Asturian and Mozarabic styles may be analyzed more clearly.
Other interesting informationAccess: Leave Santander and take A-67 to Burgos-Torrelavega; in Torrelavega take A8 to Oviedo until exit 272 to N621 towards Panes-Potes; continue around 29Km until Cillorigo. Total distance: 98.7Km. GPS Coordinates: 43º 12' 55,23"N 4º 35' 25,94"W.
Information telephone: Obispado de Santander: 942 84 03 17
Visiting hours: 110:00 to 13:30 hours and 16:00 to 19:30 hours. Closed Mondays and during religious service. Guided Visits: July and August (everyday), April (Easter), June and September (weekends) and December (long weekend of Inmaculada and Christmas).
Admission fee: One joint ticket to visit also Santa María de Piasca: 2?.
Imagen del Arte Mozárabe; José Fernández Arenas
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII
L'Art Preroman Hispanique - L'Art Mozarabe: ZODIAQUE
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII
L'Art Preroman Hispanique - L'Art Mozarabe: ZODIAQUE
La intervención en la arquitectura prerrománica asturiana