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SANTO TOMAS DE LAS OLLAS

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Previous notes

 

  • It was declared Heritage of Cultural Interest in 1931.
  • Although it is unquestionable it is a Mozarabic construction, nothing is known about its origin, as there is only one reference in a document of 1311.
  • During the last years works have been accomplished to improve its environment and some interesting paintings from the 18th century have been recovered in the separation wall between the nave and the apse. Also archeological soil pits have been performed in the vault and in the apse where no paitings remains have been found.

Description

In Santo Tomás de las Ollas, a small locality belonging to the city council of Ponferrada, we find another susprising monument offerred by the Spanish Pre Romanesque Art, difficult to classify and date.


It is a small church which structure was formed by only one rectangular nave of 13.40×7.30m and a square apse somewhat less wider than the nave; both contemporary, as their walls are bound with each other. It is an unfrequent type of design, except in the Art of High Aragón, where we find it in several churches of that period, although whilst in those the apse is semicircular externally and internally, in this case the interior has an oval horseshoe Santo Tomás de las Ollas: Planta original de la ermita y corte tranversal del ábside ampliadoshape, but externally it shows a flat facade forming an ensemble with the nave of two prismatic volumes almost of the same width and that originally had a similar height, as it can be seen in the cut of the lateral walls of the chevet, since at present the apse’s is larger than the nave’s, that was lowered during a reformation in the 17th century, when a Mudejar coffered ceiling in wood was built, of which there still are some remains left externally, in the west wall that blocks the upper part of the chevet and that was replaced by the present structure, also in wood, in the last century.


Built in slate masonry and boulders and without any ashlar reinforcements in the corners, has reached these days in very good condition although with some changes -besides the lowering of the nave already mentioned- that affect what was its original aspect, like a very large window that was added at the south of the apse. Also, in the southern side of the nave, the horseshoe arch that existed in the main door in the 12th century was replaced by a Romanesque semicircular one without any decoration, and a rectangular structure was added in the western side. Other additions were a chapel and a vestry in the northern side and a belfry upon the western facade where another door in semicircular arch was opened in the 12th century that is now blocked.


The interior shows two perfectly differentiated areas: a rectangular nave with the single decoration of the access arch to the apse and some paintings that are stillSanto Tomás de las Ollas: Vista general desde el surestepreserved, dated in the 17th century that must have replaced the original ones, and a great apse with access from the nave through a single horseshoe arch in the middle of the walll that separates both zones.


This arch is a sort of announcement of the differences in spirit between the austere nave and the magnificent apse, probably the most important one in all Spanish Pre Romanesque. In fact it is a double horseshoe arch -something of those times we can only find in the entrance and access to the apse of San Baudelio de Berlanga-, upon fine imposts decorated with a concave moulding, both with a prolongation of half of its radius, typical in Mozarabic art from León, although in the interior the ends have been jagged later almost leaving it with the shape of a prolongued semicircular.


But what is really surprising we find it in the interior of he apse. Oriented towards the east, it has she shape of a very close horseshoe but its plan is not a circular one but with the shape of an ellipse of around 6m deep and 5.5m wide.Santo Tomás de las Ollas: Vista del ábside a través del arco de accesoThe curved wall has a stone baseboard attached along its whole length, from which eight short granite pillars raise, with decorated imposts and above them, nine horseshoe arches that share the first voussoirs also prolongued in half their radius. These arches support a new curved wall, attached to the former one, that turns into a nine-side poligonal impost, with apex in the vertcal of the centre of each arch, upon which leans a ten segment dome, with groins ending in the apex of the impost, and the two ones closer to the nave, upon their intersection with the triumphal arch. Through this procedure the external walls discharge the weight of the vault, transferring it to the structure formed by the series of arches attached to the poligonal impost.



  • There is only one written reference of this building that just confirms it existence in 1311 so it is very difficult to make an analysis. In fact, starting with the base, the horseshoe arches and the type of dome that covers the apse, can only correspond with a Mozarabic construction that, in view of its technical quality and the presence of double arches makes us assert that it probably belongs to the last period of this art in León; with regard to the rest of its peculiarities we can find some little convincing relationships with other building styles, both Spanish and foreign: Whilst the type of apse, rectangular externally and circular internally, is frequent along all Mozarabic art in León, we can find only one element that steeply closed, in the Visigothic basilica of Cabeza de Griego, although in this case the exterior is also circular.

  • Its structure of nave plus apse with similar widths and heights, recalls that of many small churches of that period that we find in High Aragón, although those Santo Tomás de las Ollas: Detalle del arco central del ábsidealso had a curved apse externally and also the internal structure of the ensemble was a very different one, as Santo Tomás de Ollas has perfectly differentiated the separation between the nave and the chevet in its interior, as it corresponds with the Mozarabic lithurgy. This is not the case in the churches of the Aragon Pyrenees. The fact that the main door is located in the southern side is also very frequent in Mozarabic architecture and in the architecture of High Aragón.

  • However, we do not find in Spain another circular apse previous to Romanesque art, with its system of series of interior arches like the one of Santo Tomás de las Ollas, that can only be related with Carolingian or oriental constructions, since their only references in our environment could be some rectangular apses decorated with series of arches in Asturian monuments, like San Julián de los Prados or San Salvador de Priesca and the series of arches from Serrablo, located in the exterior of the semicircular apses, that we suppose they came from the Carolingian art.


Conclusions

Everyting mentioned turns this small hermitage, of which there is only one later reference, in a monument of very difficult classification, due to the complicated mix of features, some clearly Mozarabic, but others very different to the churches of that period and environment, like the lack of decorated capitlas that is common in all of them. From our point of view, it is clear that it is a Mozarabic construction, but we do not believe it belongs to the ensemble of monasteries created by St. Genadio in El Bierzo at the beginnings of the tenth century, both, for its location, in a transitory zone that we suppose it was inhabited since the Neolithic Age, therefore little adequate for the contemplative life that the holy hermit recommended; as well as for its structure and technical and aesthetic features. It is more likely it was built at the end of the tenth century or at the very beginnings of the eleventh century, and considering its likely relation with the architecture of the Aragón Pyrenees and the Carolingian art, its origin might be related to the Way of St. James for some reason we do not know.

Other interesting information

Address: Calle de la Iglesia, s/n. Santo Tomás de las Ollas, 24400
Access: Upon arriving at Ponferrada through N-6, coming from A-6, there is the sign of Santo Tomás de las Ollas at the right, before reaching Ponferrada.
GPS Coordinates: 42º 33′ 16,88” N 6º 34′ 45,65” W.
Telephone of Information: Oficina Turismo de Ponferrada: 987.42.42.36.
Visiting Hours: There are no fixed visiting hours. Doña Manuela, the charming doorkeeper, lives at number 7, Plaza de la Iglesia.

 

Bibliography

Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo III
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII
L’Art Préroman Hispanique – L’Art Mozarabe: Jacques Fontaine(ZODIAQUE)
Arte y Arquitectura en España 500/1250: Joaquín Yarza

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