Turismo Prerrománico > Countries > España > SAN JUAN DE BAÑOS


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Previous notes

  • Declared National Monument in 1897
  • It is the only Visigothic Monument with its buidlding date figuring on a stone plate on ots chevet.
  • Two chapels were added to its chevet in the 16th century in the space there was between its three unattached apses, and in the 18th century the two external ones disappeared, changing its original look substantially.
  • In a pitiful state in the 19th century, it went under two restoration processes, the second one conducted by Aníbal Álvarez, who had previously achieved some archaeological excavations that lead to know its original structure.

Historic environment

This church, located in a very rich area of Roman and Visigothic findings, is the perfect link among later cruciform churches and all the previous Visigothic architecture, since although due to its building technique it could be included among the first ones, its original plant is much more related with all the churches of the 6th century and beginning of the 7th century, where a constant modification in the shape of headings can be noted with the surge of different types of pseudocrossings added to the basilica plants like, por instance, in Cabeza de Griego, Recópolis or Santa Lucía del Trampal.

Besides, it is the only church which date does not present any doubts, as an isnscription is kept inlaid in the testero wall, between four salient stones decorate with veneros and curved radio wheelsSan Juan de Baños: Vista desde el costado nortethat demonstrate its building by Recesvinto on January 3rd, 661. Said inscription, written in a not very academic Latin was translated by Father Fita as follows:

Precursor of the Lord, martyr, John the baptist, has this basilica in eternal gift, built for You; which I, pious, Recesvinto King, I myself lover of Thy name, have dedicated it to You, building it and dating it at my expenses and within the territory of my own estate in the year 699, tenth year after the one that counted the tenth of my father Chindasvinto and the third one of my glorious co-reign“.

According to this and supported by the dedication to St. John the Baptist, and to the existence of a fountain of the same times that originated the name of the villa, at a few meters from this church, the old tradition that it was built by said Visigothic monarch as a vote of thanks for his healing in that particular fountain on his return from some campaign against the villages of the north of the peninsula.


The excavations that took place between 1956 and 1963 have let us know that its original form was the one of a square of some eleven meters long to which a portico, the central chapel of the cabecera and the two extremes of the transept with two other lateral chapels in the cabecera, separated from the central one, what confers a structure of great originality that has no parallel neither in nor out of Spain, excepting the recently discovered basilica of Santa Lucía del San juan de Baños: Detalle de la bóveda del ábasideTrampal in the province of Cáceres. These two chapels must have disappeared at the end of the Middle Ages, being replaced possibly by the 15th or 16th centuries by two others attached to the central ones covered by ogival vaults.


Its interior, of great beauty, belongs to the three-nave-basilical type, being the central one much larger than the lateral ones, with a height approximately the double of its width, separated by four horse-shoe archs over cylindrical columns, probably reutilised from some Roman monument, the first one attached to the wall of the testero. Over each of the archs there is a window to the outside, taking advantage of the difference in height between the central and the lateral naves.


At the level of the last arch, according to the excavations performed, a sort of a transept was extended to both sides, as the attached plant indicates, that finished in two chapels separated from the central one and that must have been exactly like it. The fact that a triple cabecero existed, also found in other buildings of the Visigothic epoch, like San Millán de la Cogolla or the Cave of the Seven Altars, besides the already mentioned basilica of Santa Lucía del Trampal, is probably due to a triple dedication of the temple plus the possibility of co-celebrations in view of the independent location of the altars.


Attached to the western wall there is a small portico with clear oriental reminiscence to which a belfry was later added, with an interiorly linteled door and a horse-shoe arch to the outside. This type of portico with an external arch door and internal door with lintel, that appears for the first time in San Juan de Baños, will become quite common in later Visigothic and Asturian architecture.


As far as the shape of the cobertura, it is certain that the naves had a flat cover, although the one now in existence is a much later one and it is different from the original one, since the height of the archs is much higher than the lateral walls, which would prevent the existence of any kind of vault. This fits perfectly with the clear classical appearance of this part of the basilica. The central chapel, which is the only part of the cabecera that has been preserved in its original state, is covered by a barrel vault with a horse-shoe generatrix as a continuation of the splendid toral arch that communicates it with the nave. This vault, of magnificent construction, as well as the window in the cabecera wall, also in horse-shoe shape, recall those of the church of Santa María de Melque, of later construction.

Nothing is left of the sides of the transept, but noting that the plant of the two lateral chapels is very similar to the central one, and that in the central nave, just on top of the arranques of the transept, there are two windows, we can assure that its peak point could not have been higher than the beginning of the roof of the lateral naves, so the only possible solution is that the two wings of the transept as well as the cabecera’s lateral chapels had a gable roof roof just like the central one and at its same height, that matches with the highest part of the lateral naves. Leaning on the same reasoning me may guess that the whole ensemble of the cabecera must have been covered like the central chapel, with barrel vaults with a horse-shoe shape, generated from five archs of this type: the central one, that we know; the two that start from the sides of the transept and those of the entrance to the lateral chapels.

TheSan Juan de Baños: Muro de separación de las naves. Detalle de arquería y ventanas de la nave centralproposed solution leaves in a latent state the problem of how would the transept vaults intertwine with those of the lateral chapels, of very difficult solution at those times, as shown by the fact that it is the only part of the building that has colapsed. Leaving aside due to its unviability the possibility of a lantern above the vaults crossing, similar to the ones of Santa Comba de Bande or San Pedro de la Nave, as there would not be any supports of two of the sides, rests the possibility of joining the two barrel vaults forming one of groins, something completely unprecedented at those times: otherwise the entrance archs to the lateral naves would not exist or, the most probable solution, that the vaults would not cross and a false groin vault made out of light material would have been built in the angle, in the style of the lantern of Santa Comba de Bande but supported directly upon the archs, keeping at the outside the same height of the whole cabecera. The drawings show how the original external structure of the church would have looked like in any of these two last hypothesis.

The ten horse-shoe arch that are preserved in this monument require a special mention. They are the most ancient ones of this kind known in Spain, excepting the one of the door of Santa Eulalia de Bóveda, but bearing in mind how perfect it is it is certain they counted with numerous precedents now disappeared.

Those of the series of divisory archs are prolongued in one third of their radius beneath the centre, being the salmeres common to the two archs that rest on each column thus increasing the sturdiness of the ensemble.

The toral arch of the central of the central apse extended in two sevenths San Juan de Baños: Vista exterior de la ventana del ábsideparts of the radius, witout any keys, over decorated impostas is extended by the vault that covers the chapel. The sensation produced by the interior view with the two arch series at their sides and the apse in front would help to consider this church as an exceptional monument.

Finally, the arch that allows the entrance to the portico, one of the most interesting ones in all Visigothic architecture, is also extended in a third of its radius with the vertical extrados, decorated impostas like the stripe in the interior and with a key in which a patada cross is sculpted. The decoration molding around the arch is of great interest.

With regard to the decoration, we could differentiate two types. The first one is made of eight capitals of the degenerate Corynthian type. The first one on the left being of Roman origin and the other seven are copies of the first one, more less achieved, of the same Visigothic times, where we can clearly appreciate in some of them the typical sculpture at two levels that identifies the sculptors. The fragment of the inner door in display in the National Archeological Museum in yelowish marmor and decorated with an ondulated stem from which a flower and a bunch stem out.

All the other decoration details that have been preserved are of a completely different type, based on purely Visigothic motifs, all chiseled. Among those we can point out the impostas in the two capitals closer to the cabecera, those of the toral arch and the one of the portico arch, as well as the exterior moldings of both and the friezes that go along the apse and the walls, internally above the windows and externally at the middle of them. In all of them we find interwined circles, aligned cross-trees and ondulated stems similar to the decorations of plenty other Visigothic monuments of the same times and older.

The building system is very similar to that of the cruciform churches of the last Visigothic era, using large squared ashlars, with little mortar work, various sizes and without the slightest intention of forming rows in the walls and in the vaults of the chapels and based on small ashlars of lesser size in the arch series and in the walls that rest upon them. We could say that San Juan de Baños is a magnificent example of the Toledan court art that has almost completely disappeared and it gives us an idea of how the great basilicas in the large cities must have been, since due to the Arabic invasion and the destructive fever of all that existed shown by the Catholic builders starting with the Reconquest, not even the foundations can be seen.

Other interesting information

How to get there: Road A-611, between Palencia and Valladolid, at 11.5 Km from Palencia, in Venta de Baños, take road PP-1224, direction Baños de Cerrato, at approximately 3 Km.
GPS Coordinates: 41º 55′ 14,90″N 4º 28′ 20,12″W.
Information Telephone: San Juan de Baños Basilica (visits) 628.720.885.
Visiting Hours Mondays closed.
– Summer (April through September): 10:30 – 14 and 16:50 – 20:00.
– Winter (October through March): 11:00 – 14:00 and 16:00 – 18:00.



Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo III
L’Art Preroman Hispanique: ZODIAQUE
Ars Hispanie: Tomo II
Imagen del Arte Hispanovisigodo: Pedro de Palol


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