Turismo Prerrománico > Countries > España > SAN PEDRO DE LA NAVE


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Previous notes

  • Descubierta por M. Gómez Moreno en 1906, la iglesia fue declarada Monumento Nacional en 1912.
  • Situada en San Pedro de la Nave, fue trasladada piedra a piedra a su emplazamiento actual entre 1930 y 1932, antes de ser cubierta por las aguas del pantano de Ricobayo. La obra fue dirigida por el propio Gómez Moreno, que intentó recuperar su estructura original.
  • En 1997, aprovechando el descenso de las aguas del pantano, se efectuó un nuevo estudio de sus cimientos en su emplazamiento original.

Historic environment

Discovered and studied initially by Gómez Moreno and moved in 1930 from its original siting that was going to be covered by water in the reservoir of Esla, on the higher edge of the same valley. In orderto move it, it was necessary to dismantle stone after stone to then assemble it in the new site. This permitted to get deeply acquainted with the original structure of the building and with the characteristics of Visigothic art. It was restored replacing the nonexistent pieces by bricks.

Both, for the design of its structure and for the integration between a perfect study of interior and exterior volumes and an exceptional sculptoric decoration for those times, together with the excellent state of preservation, it is the most interesting monument of the Visigothic period that has survived and one of the best of high medieval Spanish art.

Its structure is clearly the one of a cruciform church, of the same type of the ones of Bande, Mata and Melque, but of a later date, when it was added to those churches, besides its initial funerary function, the utilization as a monastic church. That is why, in this case the lateral rooms exist from its original design instead of having been a later addition, as we think it happened with the previous ones.


It has a rectangular plan with the shape of a Latin cross inlaid in a rectangle, with three rectangular accessories; one facing east, that forms the major chapel, and two facing north and south that conform two lateral porticos. It has three naves crossed by the crossing one, of the same height than the central nave that divides them in two very San Pedro de la Nave: Vista general desde el sudoestedifferent zones: in the west one, the two lateral naves are separated from the central one by series of arches with three spaces, separated by pillars combined by three horseshoe arches, which, in a way, produces a certain aspect of a basilical church, with windows, also horseshoe shaped upon the crossing. At the east, both naves continue along the sides of the chevet in two chambers, each one of them communicated with the central nave through a door and a window with three spaces, which we will not find again until two hundred years later in some Asturian churches. The church has three doors to the outside, one at the end of the central nave and the other two, one at each end of the crossing. They count with a good lighting provided by windows with horseshoe arches, double in some cases, in the lateral naves, the east zone of the central nave, the dome, the chevet and the west wall.

With regard to its cover, the crossing nave and the whole chevet have semicircular barrel vaults, canted upon horseshoe toral arches supported by square pillars with attached columns. The domein the intersection of the central with the crossing naves has a window on each of its four walls and was covered by a groin vault in stone that was found knocked down and was rebuilt in brick. There are also three elevated chambers, supposedly to hide treasures or archives, over the major chapel and the lateral vestibules. With regard to the cover of the basilical part of the building, it was believed initially that it was made with wooden roofs; gabled in the central nave and lower those of the lateral naves, but further studies by Cámara, Caballero, Zoreda and Arce, support Balba’s theory that states it was wholly vaulted.

With regard to the structure of San Pedro de La Nave, it is curious the compromise of utilizing for the eastern part, a design based in cruciform churches, whereas the west part has the shape of a classical basilic. There are several theories on this subject, that go from the possibility that it corresponds to a completely original design as a new variation searching after a definite type of church, as we have already seen in many constructions that have survived from the 6th and 7th centuries, up to the theory that suggests that they had made a mistake in the calculations of the initial constructions that prevented them to finish theSan Pedo de la Nave: Vista general desde eñ nordestework and were replaced by a different group of stone workers that continued modifying the original design. We think it hard to accept that both parts had such different authorships, for the excellent study on external and internal volumes, the distribution of the different types of decoration found in both parts and the sensation of an homogeneous ensemble that this church provokes. However, we understand that, as well as with other cases, the lack of knowledge of Visigothic architecture in big cities and the characteristics of Christian worship after Recaredo’s conversion, prevents us from solving in a reliable way the many issues of this kind that we find in high medieval Spanish art.

The impression of fragmentation of space that the interior of the church produces is very similar to what we feel on entering Santa Comba de Bande, but with a greater sensation of amplitude. All the arches, except the ones that give way from the lateral porticos to the crossing that are canted rounded, San Pedro de la Nave: Vista general de su interiorare horseshoe-extrados, generally with an even number of voussoirs and with a prolongation that never goes over a third of its radius (and only reaches 1/7 in the ones of the doors of the lateral porticos), bringing out the triumphal arch at the entrance of the apse, upon columns with decorated capitals and inlaid imposts in the lateral walls. The four arches that support the dome are also very interesting; horseshoe-extrados upon common imposts and only the two of the central nave, with attached columns and capitals below the impost.

The whole church has an excellent decoration in imposts and capitals, completelyintegrated in the construction with three prefectly defined styles:

  • The first one, archaic, traditional in the peninsula and in Visigothic art, with friezes with simple beveled geometric decorations and undulated stems with very rough bunches, similar to the Barbarian art jewelry. To this style belong the whole decoration of the major chapel, the capitals and keel mouldings of the toral arch and the decorated stripes that go along the walls of the central nave and the crossing, steming from that arch, besides the imposts of the exterior arches and the little columns of the windows.

  • The second one, of an exceptional quality, ascribed to the so called “Master of the Nave”, of Byzantine type, can be appreciated in the friezes with stems with leaves and bunches, masks, four-legged animals and birds, deeply engraved. Also in the bases of the imposts of the vaults of the naves and in the little arches of the head of the lateral naves; in the decoration of the four columns of the crossing and in the capitals decorated with birds.

  • And finally, probably from the same workshop as the former one but with a new subject matter, possibly based in Spanish iconography from illuminated manuscripts of that period, is found in two capitals of the crossing that contain religious stories, like Isaac’s Sacrifice, Daniel in the Den of Lions or figures of some apostles, of the same type of other decorative remains of the 7th century.


In summary, it is a very harmonic, well proportioned ensemble in an excellent state of preservation, with a very interesting decoration, that gives idea of the maturity reached by the Spanish Visigothic architecture.

However, we have to bear in mind that San Pedro de La Nave was a monastic church, located in a poorly inhabited zone; therefore it can be considered as a little meaningful exponent of up to where the art in big cities like Toledo, Mérida, Córdoba or Sevilla would have reached in those years, where we know that much larger churches and palaces had been built at the end of the 6th century and along the 7th century, of which, only remains of decoration have survived.

The visit to this monument makes us think on the extremely high level reached by the Visigothic art in the nearly over a hundred years that went by since Recaredo’s conversion to Catholicism and the Arab invasion, much higher than in the rest of the western European countries; and to what levels of maturity and perfection it would have reached, had it not taken place.

Other interesting information

Access: Road N-122, direction Portugal, continue until Almendra, 11Km far. Take B road to El Campillo.
GPS Coordinates: 41º 34′ 59,59″N 5º 57′ 50,78″W.
Information telephone: Ayuntamiento de San Pedro de la Nave/Almendra: 980 555
Recommended Contact: Luis Santamaría del Río, Párroco de San Pedro de la Nave (El Campillo, Zamora, España)
Address: c/Iglesia, 13. 49167 Muelas del Pan (Zamora) España
Telephone: (+34) 980 553 078 y (+34) 695 577 979
e-mail address: luissanrio@hotmail.com



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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