VILLAESCUSA DE EBRO
Thanks: To our collaborator Javier Pelaz Beci, member of 4AsE, who has furnished us with a great part of the information and photographs contained in this file.
The resurgence of the chalky system originated three natural caves of around 800 metres high, where the remains of a high medieval hermitage ensemble are found. Only one of them has a lithurgic character. Countless cascades spring forth caused by the heavy rain and the melting of the snow creating a stunning landscape.
The church has not been dedicated to any particular saint. It is simple known by the name of the village: Villaescusa del Ebro.
It has a square plan and its cover is the cave rock itself. On the left wall, there is a niche finishing in a semi circular arch, with a Latin cross engraved. The chevet facing east has a rectangular plan, joined to the central nave by a triumphal semi circular arch. From the bottom of the sidewall a buttress protrudes with the purpose of supporting the table of the altar (Bohigas). Several Latin crosses engraved in different places of the rock complete the lithurgical space. The access is achieved through a segmental arch opening in the north western corner of the nave. To the left of the the space there is a "bathtub" grave excavated in the rock under arcosolium.
Supposedly, the other two caves would have been used as bedrooms or burial places of its dwellers, possibly a small community of hermits devoted to Evangelic preaching and penance. The three caves communicate each other by means of internal galleries.
The surroundings of this natural space, where the specialists in such an interesting subject claim that there are more than thirty caves wih religious function, is one of the prettiest in the region, starting point of the reknowned route of the Hoces del Ebro.
The period when one of this caves was remodelled to be used for lithurgical purposes has not been possible to define yet. There are different theories with regard to its chronological dating. Ones believe them to belong to the 6th and 7th centuries; others, to the periods between the 8th and 10th centuries, so historians do not reconcile in accurately establishing the date. The theory put forward by Bertín Gutiérrez López -a scholar of the cave churches of the region- says that if the idea was to christainize the valley of heathen, the dating of this cave constructions would be end of the 6th century, but if they were monks that re christianized the region -once the Arabs had been pushed down to the south - the chronology would extend from the 8th to the 10th centuries. Even the existence of semi circular arches and Latin crosses could indicate a somewhat later date, but always prior to the introduction of the Gregorian reform in the region, by the end of the 11th century.
Other interesting informationAccess: The village is located on the freeway from Quintanilla de Las Torres to Escalada, at some 40 Km from the crossing with N-611 (Santander - Palencia) and, vice versa, at 13 Km from the crossing with N-623 (Santander - Burgos). GPS Coordinates 42°49'49"N 3°49'53"O.
Telephone: Ayuntamiento de Valderredible.
Visiting hours: always open, as it is a cave with lithurgical character. Bear in mind that the difficulty of access to the cave is medium - high.
GUTIERREZ LÓPEZ, B.: "La Colegiata de San Martín de Elines". Colegiata-Parroquia de San Martín de Elines. 2005.
Villacibio (Palencia): Un lugar con mucha historia.