Turismo Prerrománico > Countries > España > CUEVA SANTA DE LIEBANA


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Thanks: To our collaborator, Javier Pelaz Baci, member of 4AeS, who has furnished us with a great part of the photographs and information contained in this file.

Previous notes

  • Chosen by St. Toribio as his cenobitic retreat. He was the founder of the Monastery of St. Martín de Turieno in the 6th century
  • It estimates that in the 8th century added the part constructed in chairs .

Historic environment

La Liébana -ancient Liebanensis and important appendix of Santillana's Asturias- is one of the regions of Cantabria Cueva Santa de Liébana: Vista exterior.with more age-old history. In the 8th century it was a cultural centre that shone due to the presence of tycoons, monks and clergymen that looked for shelter in this valley protected by important natural borders, like the Picos de Eurpa, the Palentian Mountain and Peña Sagra, before the Muslim invader, and blessed with a Mediterranean microclimate that makes an orchard of those lands.

At the beginnings of the Reconquest a vast group of monasteries throughout the region watered by the river Deva was built, standing out among them St. Martín de Turieno, known later as St. Toribio de Liébana. Beato de Liébana was prior of this monastery by the end of the 8th century, a reknown theologist and polemicist, author of the Comments on Apocalypsis, an unequalled work during the Middle Ages, and today of worldwide importance for having included in all calligraphic copies created in the monastic scriptorium, images known under the surname of "Beatos".

Several chapels and hermitages arose around the monastery in that period of high religious fervour, that the monks built to be in complete solitude in their religious retreat.Estructura de la Cueva Santa de Liébana Along the centuries, these personal constructions turned into hermitages under the dedication to a saint from which some relics had been possibly preserved. Thus, most of the religious enclaves found their place in the northern slope of the hill of La Viorna, that later turned into a pilgrimage site for the people of Liébana.

Out of all those constructions, Cueva Santa stands out for its age, chosen by St. Toribio as his cenobitic retreat. He was the founder of the Monastery of St. Martín de Turieno in the 6th century, that as of the 12th century was renamed after him. According to the tradition collected by the monk in 1601, Prudencio de Sandoval signals the following: "... wanting to fight with the enemy alone, he climbed to the top of the hill and in a very hidden place he sculpted a small hermitage where with lots of abstinence, discipline, continuous praying  and tears, he reached such a level of perfection, that God granted him singular favours ...". Another very much deeply rooted tradition among  the  natives refers that the saint, not knowing where to build the  monastery, climbed to the top of La Viorna hill and tossed his stick to the abyss saying: "Wherever falls my staff, there my dwelling shall be". Said and done. Do not confuse this saint, who was bishop of Palencia with another Toribio, from Astorga, who was also a saint. This one was sent to Jerusalem by the pope St. León the First. He got back loaded with important relics, among those, a piece of the left arm of the Cross of Christ, the Lignum Crucis. In view of the danger of the razzias of Muslims in the city of Astorga, they brought it to this remote place of the region of Liébana, where it has been preserved in the mentioned monastery until now. 


TCueva Santa de Liébana: he Holy Cave is located at around the half of the northern slope of the Viorna hill. It is a humble building that takes advantage of a natural grotto. It has two floors. The entrance to the first floor is done through a rough door with semicircular arch with four dossoirs. In some of these, several signs may be seen: a cross pommée, triangles and mountains. The arch rests upon rough cymatiums supported by monolithic jambs. The living space, to be used as a cell, has a rectangular shape with a wall formed by the rock itself and the other one, with no chipped off ashlars except the ones in the corners. In the wall opposite the entrance there is a small rectangular window, key hole shaped, framed with porous stone. Large slabs cover the roof giving it a megalithic look. The access to the upper floor is through a ramp. It seems it was conceived as a chapel. Today only the hamlet remains, although during the tidying up works achieved in the building in 1991, several ashlars were discovered that might have belonged to the iconostasis.

Acording to García Guinea "the looks of the Holy Cave lead us to consider it Pre Romanesque, from the 9th or 10th centuries, for some concomitance with the Astur style, so close in space and in time, related politically, religiously and economically". 

Other interesting information

Location: Located in the vicinity of the Monastery of the St. Toribio de Liébana, on the northern slope of the Viorna hill, municipal district of Camaleño, region of Liébana, province of Cantabria. GPS coordinates: 43° 9' 1,20"N 4° 39' 15,62"O.
Access: Starting in Potes, direction Fuente-De, kilometre 1, is found the detour to the monastery of St. Tribio. From the western side of the monastery begins a dirt track that takes you to the Hermitage of St. Catalina. Around 500 m far, there is a junction with a sign indicating the direction to Cueva Santa, equidistant at 1.5 Km. The route can only be done on foot; it is a short walk on uneven ground.



El monasterio de Santo Toribio de Liébana. García Guinea, M.A. Editorial Everest
El Románico en Cantabria. García Guinea, M.A. Editorial ESTVDIO. Santander 1991, pp 145-152.
Caminar por Liébana. García Palomo, A. Editorial ESTVUDIO. Santander 1995, pp 77-80.
Ermitas del monasterio de Santo Toribio. Campuzano Ruiz, E. y Bohígas Roldán, R. "La Revista de Cantabria" (Enero-Marzo 2007). Publicada por Caja Cantabria.

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