Turismo Prerrománico > Countries > España > SANTAS CÉNTOLA Y ELENA


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ThanksWith our most sincere thanks to our friend, Juan Antonio Alonso, "a good man and true" from Burgos, keen on Pre Romanesque Art, who has let us know this chapel and has provided part of the information and all the photographs that are shown on this file.

Previous notes

  • It has an inscription from the year 782, but it is probably the date it was rebuilt upon an older Visigothic chapel.
  • Its structure, formed by a square apse, separated by a horseshoe arch of Visigothic type from a sole rectangular nave, with continual ashlars on the lateral walls, very often present in the resettling art of Eastern Castile.


Located on a high plateau from which a spectacular landscape can be seen over a canyon formed by the rivers Rudrón and Ebro, we find this small chapel dedicated to the saints Céntola and Elena who, according to the tradition, they were martyred in this place in the times of Diocleciano and where their relics Santas Céntola y Elena: Vista del ábside y la nave desde el ángulo sudestehave been preserved until 1317, when they were moved to the cathedral of Burgos where they are still preserved. In its environment there are also remains of a castle that, given its excellent defensive location, it is highly probable that it may had contained a kind of fort prior to Visigothic times.

The church, that has been recently restored is very small in size and formed only by a rectangular nave of 5.25 by 4.07m with a flat wooden cover and with a sort of a stone pew attached internally to each lateral wall and an apse of 2.17 by 2.40m covered by a horseshoe shaped barrel vault. The nave and the apse are separated by a wall where there is an access arch, also horseshoe, extended a third of its radius as it is usual in Visigothic architecture, upon imposts inlaid in the wall and with one apsidiole at each side of the arch, forming two small lateral arches that seem to simulate the triple apses that are so ususal in Visigothic chevets. Its only lighting comes from the access door in the west side which has not kept its original state and to which a belfry has been added much later, and from a window in the middle of the apse. This window is very narrow, with interior embrasure and finishes Santas Céntola y Elena: Interior de la ermita después de su restauraciónin a horseshoe arch sculpted in just one stone that on its external side contains an inscription that clearly reads "FREDENANDUS ET GUTINA", between the two Visigothic crosses pattées with alpha and omega that completes underneath with "ERA DCCCXX" and to its right, a vegetal decoration that recalls us more the Mozarabic period than the Visigothic sculpture. The date engraved corresponds to the year 782; consequently, if we suppose that all the inscription corresponds to its building date, we would be in front of a building in Visigothic style, seventy years later to the Arab invasion.

However, it seems highly improbable that at the very beginnings of the Reconquest there would be an interest and time to raise a religious building even of such a small size, although this zone had already been occupied and started to fortify this area so close to Amaya, that was a priority objective of a great part of the Arab attacks in those times and therefore a zone of high risk. On the other hand, all of its most meaningful features, like the interior horseshoe arch, the three altars and theSantas Céntola y Elena: Interior de la ermita después de su restauraciónform of cover and the windowon the apse, correspond to the purest Visigothic style of the 7th century, radically different to the one we find in Santianes de Pravia, an Asturian church built around those times.

From our point of view, it is more likely that it was built in the 7th century, located in a near environment ?around 70 Km- to the new city of Vitoriacum and in an area where we find at least one other important Visigothic monument in San Vicente del Valle, at 90 Km south. Possibly the area was abandoned during the Arab invasion and when it was recovered in the last third of the 8th century, the chapel may have been in good shape in view of its difficult access, and went through the necessary restoration to re open it for worship, probably by the monks that came from Al Andalus. The whole inscription or a part of it is of that time.In fact, it would be interesting to study whether all the inscription was done by the same hand and from the same period, since at first glance important differences may be noticed between the style of the dedication, including the crosses pattées that enclose it, and in the date and the vegetal decoration, that could demonstrate that the latter ones correspond to a later phase than the dedication and therefore, to the initial construction.

Another area of interest refers to the altar and a stone disc from this chapel that are now in the Archeological Museum in Burgos. The altar has a decoration that seems close to the Mozarabic sculpture and another worn inscription that is read as "CIPRIANUS FECIT", and could correspond to the name of the person that recovered it for worship on the date that appears on the external inscription.



Our conclusion is that it is very difficult to accept that this chapel, with so defined features that place it in the Visigothic 7th century could have been built in 782 as the inscription reads. However, it is much more likely , as it is thought it happened in Santa María de Quintanilla de las Viñas, that it is a church prior to the Arab invasion to which a new dedication was added when it was recuperated for worship during the Reconquest of the zone.

In any case it is obvious that we are in front of a small highmedieval Spanish monument, very little known; therefore, for its special features as well as for the splendid landscape where it lies, it certainly deserves the visit of anyone interested in Spanish Pre Romanesque Art.

Other interesting information

Access: At 58 Km from Burgos heading to Santander. After Valdelateja take the path to the abandoned hamlet, climbing up until the plateau where you will find the chapel. GPS Coordinates: 42°46'27"N 3°46'06"W
Information Telephone Mesón de Valdelateja. 947 15 00 54
Visiting hours: Consult first.



Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo III
L'Art Preroman Hispanique: ZODIAQUE
Ars Hispanie: Tomo II
Diario de Burgos 17-03-2006.


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