BASÍLICA DE EIO (Tolmo de Minateda)
To our friends Óscar O. Otero and Raúl Romero Bartolomé, lovers of Spanish Pre Romanesque Art, who have provided us with the photographs used in this file.
- El Tolmo de Minateda es un yacimiento conocido desde antiguo en el que se han venido desarrollando trabajos de excavación de manera intensiva desde 1988. En ellos se ha sacado a la luz un conjunto episcopal visigodo situado en el plano superior de la meseta.
- Formado por una basílica con baptisterio y otro gran edificio, se supone que palacial, fue construido a finales del siglo VI, modificado en el VII y abandonado y derruido a partir de la conquista musulmana.
At nine Km from Hellín, on a plateau that dominates a strategic area in the way between the Mediterranean coast and the centre of the peninsula, we find remnants of a population that existed at least from the Bronze Age, that would become important, both, in times of the Iberians as during the Roman Empire, that reached its zenith by the end of the 6th century when it became a Visigothic See as well as a bastion in front of the peninsular east still taken by the Byzantines. It was included among the territories handed over to the Visigothic duke Teodomiro -Tudmir in Arabic- in his treaty of 713 with the Muslim conquerors, was destroyed by Abd al Rashman the 2nd in 825 during the pacification of the Kora of Tudmir.
During the excavations that have been conducted since 1966 the important ensemble of constructions of the Visigothic period has come to light; from which we can remark the fortification of the access and the episcopal ensemble formed by a three nave basilic with a baptistry attched to its feet and a large building of palatial type located very near, at the north of the basilic. It is important to point out that materials from Roman constructions in the area have been reutilized abundantly. The whole Visigothic complex corresponds to a sole urbanistic project created in one only phase, having previously flattened the ground of sand rock, for what any possible previous constructions was wiped out. In this particular area it has been also found water deposits, granaries and liquid storage cisterns as well as tombs in the external environment of the chevet and the baptistry, in which backside there was a space separated by walls dedicated exclusively to children burials. The result is, together with Recópolis, the best example of Visigothic urban complex we know so far.
An inscription of the Roman period that shows it is the city of Ilunum, and the meaningful Visigothic remnants that have been excavated have made it possible to acknowledge it as the important episcopal See of Eio -or Elo-, created at he end of the 6th century to replace the diocese of Ilici that was in the hands of th Byzantines.
So far, only the excavation of the area of the church has been completed. It is a traditional basilic with three naves and a sole apse looking east. There is also a counterchoir opposite the apse with an attached baptistry, that fill the last stretches of the central nave and four lateral compartments; three on the southern side on the first northern side.
The 37.5 m long basilic is one of the largest known from the Spanish Pre Romanesque period. Its width, of 12.5 m in the first stretch is being shortened slightly in the lateral naves up to 11.5 m on the last stretch, and the central nave remains fixed (5m). The naves are separated by two rows of eight reutilized columns -though a pillar was used in the position of the fourth column on the southern side- forming eight stretches to which are added the baptistry, longer and different in structure. The columns lean upon Attic bases that also come from previous constructions and that are supported upon spaces chiseled on the rock, with foundations made with mortar. The stretches must have been covered by semicircular rounds of arches, of which some voussoirs and a great part of one of the arches have been found.
Although it is not known whether the naves were equal in height or if the central one was higher with windows on the upper part of its walls, this option seems to be the most likely one because that is what was ususal for this kind of basilics; furthermore, rests of several monolithic windows that probably belonged to this building have been found with the excavations. The cover would have been flat; the central one gabled supported upon the lateral walls and the rounds of arches for separation between the naves. The floor of the whole church is the chiseled rock itself. There are several drain channels. The floor is covered by a layer of lime mortar mixed with the same crushed rock, except in some zones where a pavement of clay soil has been found, supposedly from a later modification.
The apse is unattached with semicircular canted shape, both externally as internally, and it is formed by a double wall of reutilized ashlars, with interior filling, forming a very solid structure that supported the quarter sphere dome, in brick, from which some remnants have been found in situ. The access was through a semicircular brick arch that leaned directly upon the lateral walls. The floor, as a great part of the church is recovered by a thin layer of opus signinum.
In front of the apse and filling the first stretch of the central nave, we find the choir, a rectangular space with its floor elevated over the rest of the basilic. Two different construction phases have been found there; the first one, at an intermediate level between the apse’s floor and the basilic’s, that was paved with bricks, would have had access through the three sides, whereas later, the floor was elevated at the same height of the apse and inner doors were added that block the access on the sides and only leave an access on its front. Separating inner doors between the apse and the choir were also added during this phase.
A special mention deserves the counterchoir placed in the last stretch of the central nave. It is a space separated from the rest of the church by low walls that only count with two accesses, one, from the central nave and the other one from its southern side. It is not known whether it exists since the church was built, although it is supposed it was added later, nor its purpose, as it cannot be related with thedouble apse of the North African churches and other basilics which have a space of this kind for funeral uses; in this case, it seems it is more related with the circulation of the catechumen in the baptism rite.
The zone of the baptistry preserves its three naves, in this case, separated by inner doors, without any columns nor rounds of arches. The baptismal font, fourfoiled, initially filled the whole central part, but it was reduced later with several filling layers, probably due to the replacement of baptism by immersion. It did not have any external access nor from the counterchoir, but only from the lateral naves of the basilic to the baptistry and from these to the central one.
The building has four external spaces attached. The first one, the only one located on the northern side, is an access that was arcaded upon pillars, with a staircase to the first stretch of the nave. It was a monumental entrance to the basilic from the small square that seprated it from the palace, in which there were two stone benches and rests of decorations have been found.
There are other three compartments on the southern side, all of them built during the later modification of the basilic. One is placed in front of the monumental entrance of the northern side and it is somewhat larger, with two small doors, one that gives access from outside and the other one stepped to the basilic. It was used only for lithurgical purposes and possibly as a sacrarium. An empty grave was found in it, blocked and covered with bricks; a small box chiseled on the floor, supposedly to embed the leg of a table and a bench atttached to the western wall; the second one is similar to the one described although without access from outside and with a continuous bench on three of its sides. It is placed on the west end of the southern side, in the area of the baptistry.
Finally, the basilic has two other main accesses on the centre of each of the lateral walls, following the style of the North African churches. The one located at the north seems it could have had a small portico, whereas the one on the southern side had a covered lobby elevated above the floor of the church, also with a stepped access. In general, the spans, both, the ones between the diffrent compartments as well as the ones with external access, were flanked by monolithic jambs, preserved in situ in several cases.
As already mentioned, great part of the material used in building the basilic came from previous constructions, in some cases, as the nave columns, from different origins and measures, forming surfaces of very diffreent structures, although everything was hidden by plaster that covered the whole basilic and that was also used to hide the differences in some columns, bases and other elements. The end result must have been a very well planned work, consistent and with a high quality completion.
But in Eio we face the surprising fact that the basilic was modified, apparently for lithurgical reasons, shortly after it was finished. These changes implied the elevation of the choir including the addition of inner doors, the construction of the counterchoir and the modification of the space of the baptistry, reducing the size of the baptismal font, whereas in its exterior, the three external compartments of the southern side were added and probably the northern access compartment was modified.
After the analysis of these modifications it may be considered meaningful that in the zone of the second phase inner doors have shown up, with chiseled decoration at two levels with crosses inscribed in a circle and intertwined circles, all of that quite usual in Visigothic art, whereas the initial construction hadbeen preserved within the most classical type of conventional Early Christian basilics and unrelated with Visigothic art, both, in decoration as well as in the shape of the arches, all semicircular ones, or in the open choir without any isolated zones so common in Visigothic Catholic lithurgy.
On the other hand, the episcpal See of Elio is mentioned for the first time in a provincial council from Carthago celebrated in Toledo in 610. This fact has made us think that the basilic was built by the end of the 6th century, that is to say after Recaredo’s conversion, as the possibility it is an Early Christian construction is wholy discarded, among other reasons, because before the Byzantines got there, this zone belonged to the bishopry of Ilici (the Alcudia of Elche) and an important See like Eio was not justified.
However, bearing in mind how strange it is that it suffered a lithurgical remodelation immediately after its building, we think it to be interesting to consider the possibility that the initial construction could have taken place a few years earlier, in times of the king Leovigildo, therefore initially an Arian basilic what would have justified its remodeling to re consecarate it as a Catholic See.
Levogildo was a warrior king and a builder. He fought against the Suebics, Vascones and Byzantines and built at least two new cities: Recópolis as the future kingdom’s capital and Victoriacum to protect the border with the Basques. It would not have been strange if he would have created Eio as a defence against the Byzantines including the new Arian episcopal See.
Another detail worth mentioning is that if we compare the structure of the basilic with other constructions of the same period, we see there is a resemblance with other Visigothic churches of the 6th century, like Algezares, Segóbriga or Germo, all of basilical type with three naves separated by columns, although the one of Eio is the one with the most classical structure and therefore quite different to Recópolis where the plan of the Visigothic curches begins to change, the lateral naves are separated by walls from the central nave moving away from the basilical shape and a sort of crossing nave is beginning to appear, which complete development we will find in the cruciform churches of the 7th century. All of that seems to indicate that the basilic of Eio could have been built before the creation of Recópolis.
The Tor of Minateda has been declared Archeological Park and a documentations’ centre is planned to be built, although during our last visit in June 2010 the complex was still abandoned. It will offer the possibility to know the important set of information on art and culture in Spain in a site inhabited for over 3,500 years, from the Bronze Age until the 10th century.
Other interesting information
Access: Exit from Albacete by A-30 up to Hellín, around 67 Km. Take N-301 to Murcia. At 9 Km from Hellín you will find the unpaved road to Tolmo. There is no signal but it is visible and accessible to any kind of vehicle. GPS coordinates: 38º28′ 34.53″N, 36’21.41″W.
Telephones: Ayuntamiento de Hellín, Concejalía de Turismo: 967 54 15 20.
Visiting hours: The access now (June 2010) is free. There are oganized guided tours by La Escarihuela (Hellín).
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo III
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII
L’Art Preroman Hispanique: ZODIAQUE
Historia del Reino Visigodo Español: José Orlandis
Ars Hispanie: Tomo II
La iglesia visigoda de El Tolmo de Minateda: S. Gutiérrez Lloret y L. Abad Casal.
Vídeo del Yacimiento Arqueológico del Tolmo de Minateda: Web oficial de Turismo de Castilla la Mancha.
Parque Arqueológico del Tolmo de Minateda: La Cerca.
El complejo episcopal de Eio: L. Abad Casal y otros.