Turismo Prerrománico > Countries > España > QUINTANILLA DE LAS VIÑAS


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Previous notes

  • Fue declarada Monumento Nacional en 1929.
  • Según un documento del Cartulario de San Pedro de Arlanza datado en el año 879 sabemos que Gundisalvo Telliz, conde de Lara, encargó la restauración de esta iglesia, que nos ha llegado destruida parcialmente.
  • A principios del siglo XX se sustituyeron los restos de la bóveda baída que aún quedaban en el ábside por una techumbre de madera que cubre todo el conjunto.

Historic environment

The church is located in the region of Lara, surrounded by Celtic, Roman and Medieval remains. Only its chevet and a part of the crosssing persist, without the original vaults. Although there have been many doubts about the date it was built, thanks to a dedication difficult to interpret, today its is considered as Visigothic of the 7th century, possibly the last one we have news from, together with Santa María de Melque and San Giao de Nazaré, prior to the Arabic invasion.


Quintanilla de las Viñas: Vista de la cabeceraBuilt on base of large grey limestone ashlars with stripes of engraved decoration in stone, also calcareous but lighter in colour, this church has only reached partially to these days, as the only elements left are the square apse and the transverse nave. For what it has been possible to discover from the excavations, we know it was a three nave basilic, the two lateral ones divided in three chambers and separated by series of horseshoe arches. Only the starting point of one of them has been preserved, with just one exterior square apse and a portico with two lateral chambers at their feet. It has a crossing nave, that would have been of equal height than the central one, with lateral overhanging porticos, as well as the apse, from the basilica’s rectangular plan. Its structure seems a step in between San Pedro de la Nave and the Asturian churches of later.

It is quite possible that the original construction remained unfinished as in the excavations only a part of the bases of the naves has been found. Besides, in the interior of the church, several large stone blocks have been preserved, decorated with bas relief, with antropomorhic reproductions that give the impression that they were never placed where they were intended to. On the other hand, out of the six medallions on the exterior walls of the rectangular apse, placed to receive monograms carved in stone with intertwined letters in the Gothic style, only three have been sculpted, the other remained without any decoration. This shows the possibility that part of the decoration of the Visigothic buildings might have been sculpted on walls that had already been raised, that could explain some conflictive issues like the shortage in decoration of Santa María de Melque, that could have occurred because the Arab invasion did not leave time to decorate it.

The remains preserved on the walls, that were pollarded at the beginning of the 20th century to install a modern wooden roof, indicate that the chevet as well as ther lateral naves were vaulted; the apse with a lobbed vault of which the starting points still remain; the lateral ones and possibly the central dome with a groin vault. It is very difficult to know how the central nave and the crossing nave were covered as there is not anything that might suggest it was also with a barrel vault or with a wooden roof, gabled in any case. The latest theories defend the thesis that it was a totally vaulted building (see diagram of its structure according to Caballero and Arce), although there is not any concrete data that could make us take any of the two possibilities for certain.

The structure of this church varies with regard to the preceeding ones and provides

new connection points between the Visigothic architecture of the end of the 7th century and the first Asturian churches like Santianes de Pravia and San Julián de los Prados:

  • The presence of a transverse nave, of equal width than the central nave, in combination with a basilical plan.

  • The lateral naves are much narrower than in the preceeding monuments, as in the Asturian churches.

  • From the reamains preserved, we know that the central and the crossing nave raised to a considerable height and were possibly covered with a wooden roof.

  • The existence of a portico with lateral chambers lets us think that a gallery could have been on top, that already appears in San Giao de Nazaré and that it would become usual in all Asturian architecture.

At the entrance of the apse a wonderful toral arch has been preserved; undoubly Visigothic, with a horseshoe shape Quintanilla de las Viñas: Detalle de la decoración exterior del muro de crucerothat extends itself ¼ of its radius with a lower and divergent extrados and perfectly centred voussoirs with central key and imposts upon columns. It is the most perfect and interesting horseshoe arch that has been found until our days in all Visigothic architecture (see diagram in the page of General Characteristics of Visigothic Art).

It has a magnificent decoration sculpted internally and externally. The sculpture is in two planes and with beveled figures. At its exterior it consists of two decorative stripes in limestone in a lighter colour than the rest, that go along the chevet’s walls and the front of the crossing, with a third in the headwall. The lowest one consists of a long undulating stem with a bunch or five-leaf flowers in the inflections that remind the vegetal motifs from “the Master of the Nave” but with a coarser sculpture. The upper one with circles entwined with birds and Quintanilla de las Viñas: Detalle del arco triunfal de la cabeceravegetal drawings. The third stripe of the headwall is similar but with representation of animals of a clear Syrian-Persian influence. In the second one there are also some anagrams similar to those of Visigothic coins of the second half of the 7th century.

In the interior, besides the decoration of the toral arch, a mixture of the two former stripes, there is a secods group of decoration formed by seven big stone blocks with iconographic relief. This interior decoration of Santa María is famous for the presence of bas reliefs characterized by their appearance embossed in a stone frame; they represent historical subjects and their main feature is the expressionism of all proportions of the characters connected, not only with San Pedro de la Nave, but with the whole iconography of the Mozarabic manuscripts, an announcement of the Romanesque art. The decorative style of the church of Santa María is completely lineal; all figures are facing the front and cut out in one plan on a deep end but without interior plans. The seven big blocks mentioned earlier contain the following iconography:

    • The bas relief of the right impost where the arch of the entrance to the apse rests, represents two angels face to face in their flight, both holding a circular medallion with the image of a radiant sun, represented as a callow male figure. Their silhouettes, with gash strokes come out with little relief upon a flat background; above the figure, the Visigothic handwriting SOL.

    • The other block, located in the left impost, has the same composition but ir represents the moon, in a very unusual way,Quintanilla de las Viñas: Detalle de la imposta con representación del Cristo-Sol as a male character with a beard, as well as with the two angels supporting the circle where, on the head of the figure there is a waxing moon with its word: LUNA (MOON).

    • Two other blocks of the same shape and size as the former ones are now on the flor of the high altar. One represents a male figure looking to the front holding a processional cross in its right hand and two angels, like the former ones , blocks of the Sun and the Moon. The other one follows the same

      disposition, only that in this case the figure is a feminine one representing a woman with her hand on her chest. It is possible that they had been placed in the separation arch between the crossing and the central nave that would have been similar to the one preserved in the chevet.

  • The last block, located above the triumphal arch’s key, represents a bearded Christ with a cruciferous halo in a blessing attitudeQuintanilla de las Viñas: Detalle de un bloque decorado. It is speculated that the two blocks representing the evangelists might have been located at both sides of this last block.



The interpretation of these two images has sprung a lot of controversies, from the most Orthodox Christian to the possibility that it may correspond to a last outbreak of Arrian heresy or that the are gnostic inscriptions, but tackling this kind of disgressions would take us far from our purpose. From our point of view, the first option is a more reasonable one, that relates the first four blocks with the astral and human representations of Christ and his Church, according to the ancient Christian traditions that St. Isidoro defines in his “Treatise of Nature”, the other three forming a sort of ancient Pantocrator above the triumphal arch. Of what we are completely certain is that all the decoration is of the same time of the building of the church and therefore Visigothic of the end of the 7th century, excepting, maybe, the interior dedication inscription that could belong to the 10th century.

In summary, Santa María de Las Viñas is a basic link for the knowledge of all the Spanish medieval art, both, for its structure that constitutes an intermediate step between the Visigothic cruciform churches and the Asturian ones with three naves with a crossing, including also the possibility -as with the Asturian churches later- that a gallery could have existed above the portico, as we have already seen in San Giao de Nazaré, as well as for its iconography, which influence is not only clearly reflected in the Mozarabic painting and miniatures, but also in all the European Romanesque making of religious images.

PLUNDER: A short time ago, two of the decorated blocks that were on the floor of the church, weighing 130 kg each, have been stolen from the interior of the church. Due to this, the rest of the loose pieces have been transferred to the Archaeological Museum of Burgos, leaving exact copies of the originals in the church. Years later they appeared in a garden in England and now they are also in the Burgos Museum. (See photo of stolen blocks).

Other interesting information

Access: Leave Burgos to the south taking A-1; at 10.5Km take N-234 towards Soria for 40 Km. Turn to the left taking BU-V-8207 towards Quintanilla that you will reach in 4.7Km.
GPS Coordinates: 42º 7′ 28,20″N 3º 28′ 22,67″W.
Visiting hours: Free visit to the interior of the chapel. Gatekeeper (Antonio): 626 496 215.
October-April: 10:00-17:00. May-September: 10:00-14:00 and 16:00-20:00. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays and last month’s weekend.
Telephone Ayuntamiento de Mambrillas de Lara. 947 39 20 49.



Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo III SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII

L’Art Preroman Hispanique: ZODIAQUE
Ars Hispanie: Tomo II

Imagen del Arte Hispanovisigodo: Pedro de Palol


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