Turismo Prerrománico > Countries > España > SANTA MARÍA DE LOS ARCOS


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To our collaborators Juan Antonio and Diego Alonso, lovers of Spanish Pre Romanesque Art, who have provided us with part of the information and photographs used in this file.

Previous notes

  • Monumento Histórico Artístico Nacional.
  • La iglesia sufrió tres modificaciones de importancia a lo largo de la historia, la primera en el siglo XIII, la segunda en el XVIII y la última en el XX en que hubo que reconstruir la fachada oeste y el último tramo de las naves.
  • Ha sido estudiada y restaurada en la década de 1980, en un proyecto en el que participó un equipo de arqueología del Colegio Universitario de La Rioja.

Historic environment

We find in the church of the Virgen de los Arcos de Tricio one of the three Visigothic basilics that are still preserved in Perspectiva axonométrica del estado actual de la basílicagood shape and the only one prior to the 7th century. The others are San Juan de Baños and St. Lucía del Trampal, of a later stage and with very different characteristics.

Located in the proximity of what had been the most important Roman city of Tritium Magallum – Tricio the Great- its looks at present are very different of what must have been originally, much altered after the restructuring that took place in the 18th century, when externally the three nave structure was hidden increasing the height of the laterals to cover it wit a gabled roof and its only square apse surrounded by three compartments. All of that under the same roof of the rest of the building. More impactful is the modification of its interior, with the covering of all the spaces with a plaster vault, a material that was also used to add in a large part of its surfaces a far from discreet decoration, although it is fair to acknowledge that internally this disaster becomes original and with a more attractive aesthetics than those of other monuments restored lately, where new even less “discreet” material has been added.


Originaly it was a conventional basilic, built upon a Roman mausoleum of the 3rd century, what probably caused the chevet to be facing west. It had three naves of which the central one was twice the height and width of the lateral ones, with flat covers in wood; the central one, gabled, had windowsVista de la iglesia desde el sudoeste upon the laterals . The naves were separated by rows of six very thick columns formed by cylindrical elements that came from some important Roman building near by, five of them finishing in Corynthian type, also reutilized, and the rest without capitals. These columns support Visigothic type arches of very good workmanship in sinter, except the northern side of the presbitery, wher a Roman arch in sandstone is preserved. We do  not know the original structure of the last stretch of the naves, including the eastern facade, because on account of its bad condition they were rebuilt in the last century. At present there is a choir upon this last stretch that can be reached from a staircase in the southern nave and the lateral naves are blocked by walls that form two compartments with access through a door from the outside in the northern side and another one in the southern side to the central nave. There is historical information about a crypt under the chevet, from which a seven meters passage appeared with the last excavations, that starts in the central nave and ends under the apse in a circular compartment, all of that at over four meters deep with regard to the present level of the floor.


Originally the chevet was formed only by a square apse built upon a Roman mausoleum of the 3rd century that also filled partPlanta de la iglesia actual según S.A. Valero. En oscuro construcción romana 'in situ', remarcadas las columnas romanas reutilizadas. of the present presbitery. This apse was first covered by a dome upon pendentives in tuff that would lean on blind arches, today covered by the Baroque decoration, It had its three walls recovered by paintings, of which the ones in the lower part have been preserved, repainted, with geometric motives in red. It was modified in the 13th century when a recess was opened on the sidewall’s wall. Also, during that period the paintings that were in the upper part of the three walls were replaced by the Romanesque ones that are still preserved. Besides, as already mentioned, during the 18th century it was surrounded by three compartments, doors were opened towards the lateral and the access arch was enlarged, for what it seems that a frieze formed by four blocks in sandstone had to be dismounted, as revealed by the last excavations.


An important group of materials from the original construction appeared during the last process of restoration of those excavations that took place in 1981, possibly from the former mausoleum and other Roman constructions near by that have been preserved in the lateral naves, being the most remakable ones, a mosaic and a tombstone with an inscription, both Romans, that possibly belonged to the mausoleum; several sarcophagus from different periods, some of them Roman, reutilized, and multiple burials that surround the apse and in the presbitery and the lateral naves.


At this moment there is not a definite criterium about the dating of this monument that appears for the first time documented in 1094 in the Cartulary of Albelda, considering options so far off as to suggest it was an Early Christian basilic of the 5th century or that we are in front of a building from Santa María de los Arcos: Vista general desde la cabeceramid 10th century, during the resettlement of the area, that is to say, in the middle of the Mozarabic phase.

From our point of view, Santa María de los Arcos does not meet any characteristc of the Mozarabic constructions of the area, which most meaningful example is St. Millán de Suso. Among other details we can point out:

  • Its main access is on the eastern facade, whereas one of the characteristics of the Mozarabic churches is to have it on a lateral nave.
  • The cover of the apse is a conventional dome upon pendentives, very different from the usual Caliphal domes of that period. It is also quite unusual to have a square apse, both in and out,
  • The church had a single apse, whereas the rest of the Mozarabic constructions of basilical type have three.
  • The arches are just slightly protruding, far different from all in Mozarabic art.

Santa María de Arcos: Detalle de capitel corintio reutilizadoNotwithstanding, we may establish a very clear relationship between Tricio and the basilics Cabeza de Griego and Eio in Minateda, as in the three cases we find a three nave basilic with covers in wood, with a central nave with width and height twice as large as the lateral ones, separated by rounds of arches upon columns and with an apse for burials. But the coincidences do not end with the features of the building: they are also evident when we compare the surroundings: Both, Tritium Megallum as well as Segóbriga and Ilunum were Roman cities, relatively important that suffered a severe decay in the fourth and fifth centuries, partly recovered in the 6th century. These basilics were built in the proximity of the two latter cities; if we pay attention to the dates on the sepulchres of the bishops found in Cabeza de Griego, they correspond to the Arian phase of the Visigothic monarchy, with a similar structure, the chevet upon a mausoleum of earlier date and reutilized materials in the Roman buildings of the environmnt.

In view of everything above said, we understand it would be interesting to study in St. María de los Arcos, the possibility that it may have been a Visigothic construction of the first half of the 6th century and, therefore, dedicated to the Arian worship and prior to the beginning of the replacement of the classical basilical plans by cruciform ones, that we begin to find in Recópolis, possibly the last church built for that worship.

Other interesting information

Access: Exit from Logroño through A-12 to Burgos. At some 23 Km take L-427 towards Burgos/Nájera (East)/Tricio. After 1.2 Km, follow through L-136 for 1 Km. The church is at 500 metres from the centre of Tricio towards east. GPS Coordinates: 42º 24′ 7.480″N  2º 42′ 39.599″W.
Telephones: Tricio City Council 941 36 10 57. Guides Delia 676699377 and Nuria 620 923 644.
Visiting hours: Guided tours. Ask for timetable



Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo III
L’Art Preroman Hispanique: ZODIAQUE
Historia del Reino Visigodo Español: José Orlandis
Ars Hispanie: Tomo II


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