Turismo Prerrománico > Countries > España > SANTIANES DE PRAVIA


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Previous notes

    • Declared Heritage of Cultural Interest with rank of Artistic-Historical
      Monument, on June 3rd, 1931.
    • It has gone through several interventions along its history that makes it
      very difficult to know its original structure; the first of those in 1637, with
      the replacement of the chevet; later, in the 19th century, the crossing was
      enlarged and the western façade was rebuilt.
    • Excavations in the church had been achieved between 1975 and 1981 and a
      complete restoration was accomplished directed by José Menéndez-Pidal, with
      questionable results.~_

Historic environment

King Silo (774-783) was the husband of Adosina, who was Froila
the First’s sister and who died prematurely when his son Alphonse was still too
young to succeed. He was elevated to the throne despite the opposition of an
important part of the court of Cangas de Onís. Probably because of that and also Santianes de Pravia: Vista desde el sudoeste
for the convenience to better locate the capital, centred in the kingdom’s
teritory, that included Galicia already, he moved the court to Pravia, the old
Roman Flavium Avia where he built a set of palaces and a church dedicated to San
Juan Apóstol y Evangelista that also seems to have been used as a royal

We find references to this church in the chronicles of the times of Alphonse the
Third, and a description of its state at the beginnings of the seventeenth
century have reached us to day. The sponsorship of this
church was stated in a funny acrostic, destroyed in the seventeenth century
where the phrase “SILO PRINCEPS FECIT” could be read in a thousand different
ways, and that it became a monastery at the death of the monarch. Later it went
through several transformations, the first one of them in 1637, where the
complete chevet was replaced, and several others in the nineteenth century, when
the crossing was enlarged and the western façade was replaced as well. Very few
remains of the original construction remained standing at the beginning of the
twentieth century. These consisted of some masonry walls and two brick arches at
each side of the central nave, upon pillars with bases and imposts decorated
with layered fillets. At those times it was studied by Fortunato Selgas, who
suggested a probable original structure, and it was investigated between 1975
and 1980 and rebuilt under the supervision of José Menéndez Pidal.



The end result after so many transformations shows us a church of a basilical

plan with three naves. The central one twiceSantianes de Pravia: Present plan according to latest excavations wider than the aisles and separated

from these by a series of three round arches, plastered in brick upon square

section pillars with a transept somewhat wider than the naves, also divided in

three separated areas by large round arches, the three rectangular plan apses built in the seventeenth century, being the

southern one a bit wider than that side of the new transept and a portico also

divided in three parts, which central one was used as a royal pantheon, and a

tribune upon it. But if we bear in mind the description of the jesuit Luis

Alfonso de Carvallo at the beginnings of the seventeenth century and the

information obtained from the excavations at the end of the twentieth century,

it is unquestionable that there are far too many reasons to believe that there

are big differences between one construction, maybe excessively inspired in the

churches known of Alphonse the Second’s period, half a century later, and its

original structure.


Whilst Carvallo described a tripartite chevet though with semicircular apses,

only the central one was found in the excavations, Santianes de Pravia: Inner view from the apse. Crossing, central nave and tribunewhich is in fact of the semicircular type, somewhat canted, which location is

marked on the floor of the present one. It has been also proven that the

original transept was of the same width than the naves, as a continuation of

those, so its original plan was most probably formed by a rectangle of almost 25

m long by 13 m wide, divided in six spaces, formed by the three naves; the

central one twice the width of the aisles, and a crossing a bit narrower than

the main nave, also tripartite, plus a semicircular canted apse as a

continuation of the main nave, and a portico, used as a mausoleum of a slightly

lower width than the main nave. On the other hand, all the church was covered

with wooden roof, except the apse that was probably covered with a porous stone

vault, according to the remains found in the last excavations.


Another concept to bear in mind is that all the decorationSantianes de Pravia: Inner door of Visigothioc type that was moved to the El Pitu church (Cudillero found is of clear Visigothic influence. The one that was present in churches at

the end of the eighteenth century, that today we can find in Cudillero, of a

difficult to justify shape, as a great part of the one that appeared in the last

excavations. Both the altar formed by a stone plaque upon a strong octogonal

pillar, as well as the innerdoors with chiseled decoration on secant circles and

friezes with vegetal decorations, as the remains of a window formed by two horse

shoe arches framed by a sort of alfiz and leaning upon columns, or the little

horseshoe shaped windows that are still preserved in the lateral walls, lead us

to think that there are too many Visigothic elements for a church rebuilt with a

clear thought on a later period.


But it is still more surprising the existence of a baptismal font at the feet of

the southern nave Santianes de Pravia: Baptismal font of Paleo-Christian typethat was found during the latest excavations of Menéndez Pidal. It is a

baptistry of the so called immersion baptistries chiseled on a block of

sandstone of 60 cm by side and 30 cm deep that, due to its location in the most

isolated area of the church, and probably with a direct entrance from the

outside, seems to correspond to a Christian rite much older than Silo’s times,

who did not allow the neophyte its access to the cult until after being

baptized. We have to point out also the fact that the chevet’s floor, the naves

and the baptistry are at different levels, having kept a part of the original

one around the baptismal pool, and another one in the baptistry built in Opus

Signinum in red, alternating with black pebbles, quite usual in Roman

architecture. .

According to what we have mentioned above, and starting from the point that both

Silo’s acrosticSantianes de Pravia: Remains of a window with alfiz and horseshoe arches as well as the codex of that period back up that the church was built by Silo

and his wife Adosinda around 780. We find a series of reliable elements that

relate it with the preceeding Spanish architecture as well as with the Asturian

art, especiallly with those of Alphonse the Second and Alphonse the Third’s


  • The semicircular canted apse is very similar to the Basilic of

    Veranes, at 50 Km from Pravia, and considered to have been built in the fifth or

    sixth century, razonable Plan of the Paleo-Christian basilic of Veranesplantearnosbecause of its shape and for the presence of exterior buttresses. Considering

    that both are located in two communities of Roman Spain origin, that were

    inhabited in the Visigothic period, it seems reasonable to think that

    constructions that previously existed in the area may have had an influence in

    the initial design of Santianes, of which Veranes is a good example. Apses of

    this type are also found in previous Spanish churches, like San Bou in Menorca

    (fifth century), Aljezares in Murcia (sixth century) or Recópolis in Guadalajara

    (sixth century).

  • The immersion baptismal font, a system that was not been used

    in Spain since the sixth century, recalls the existing ones in churches in the

    peninsula in the fifth and sixth centuries, like San Pedro de Alcántara in

    Málaga (sixth century), Idanha a Velha in Portugal (sixth century) or Aljezares,

    and in some basilics in the Balearic Islands although in Santianes it is less

    deep and there are not the usual seven steps: three to descend; the central one,

    and three to ascend, according to the description of San Isidoro.

  • The type of floor found, of a clear Roman or Paleochristian

    origin has not been utilized in the rest of the known Astur architecture.

  • All the decoration found both in the church in the nineteenth

    century as well as in later excavations that conform an undoubtly Visigothic


  • The remains of the central nave that have been preserved, which

    are proven to have Santianes de Pravia: Exterior window with horseshoe arch  been built by that king, state a

    clear precedent of the late Astur architecture, at least in the structure of its

    naves, but the square pillars are not new in Spanish Pre-Romanesque

    architecture, with precedents in different periods, as the already mentioned of

    Son Bou and Aljezares or San Pedro de

    la Nave
    in Zamora (seventh century). The round arches in brick were

    also quite usual in Roman architecture in Spain, and it is possible that there

    had been constructions with this type of arches in the surroundings of Pravia,

    for example, in Veranes or in the Flavium Avia, as it seems that the palace

    complex of Silo was built upon an ancient Roman town..

  • The remains of the central nave that have been preserved, which are proven to

    have  been built by that king, state a

    clear precedent of the late Astur architecture, at least in the structure of its

    naves, but the square pillars are not new in Spanish Pre-Romanesque

    architecture, with precedents in different periods, as the already mentioned of

    Son Bou and Aljezares or San Pedro de

    la Nave
    in Zamora (seventh century). The round arches in brick were

    also quite usual in Roman architecture in Spain, and it is possible that there

    had been constructions with this type of arches in the surroundings of Pravia,

    for example, in Veranes or in the Flavium Avia, as it seems that the palace

    complex of Silo was built upon an ancient Roman town.

  • The rest of what has been found in it, like the present chevet and crosings, the

    western façade and its tribune and all the elevations of the church, including

    its presept covering, are later reconstructions which we may consider more or

    less adequate but its original structure is not guaranteed, since they do not

    provide reliable information regarding its original state and it may probably

    generate a wrong idea.


All that has been said confirms Santianes de Pravia as a basic link at the
moment of studying the origins of the Asturian art, about which so much has
beeen speculated. To do that it is very important to bear in mind the time it
was built, a few years later than Carlomagno came to the
throne (771) and  Santianes de Pravia: Probable original plan according to latest excavationsmuch earlier than the empire and Carolingian art existed, as well as the
lack of communication in those times of the Astur kingdom, since until Silo, its
court had been secluded in the mountains in Cangas de Onís. On the other hand,
the existence of the complicated acrostic, added to the clear cultural level of
Beato de Liébana, that in that very reign was writing his “Comments to the
Apocalypse” keeping a theological discussion of great level with Elipando, the
Mozarabic bishop of Toledo, lead us to consider that the Asturian kingdom had
not been kept unaware of the Roman and Visigothic cultural development in the
peninsula. We must also consider that, according to the Chronicles of Sebastian,
already in times of Alphonse the First (739-757), many churches had been built
and restaured, although nothing of them has been preserved, what makes it
unquestionable the continuity of the Visigothic culture in the beginnings of the
Asturian art, which, for the time being, until new findings take place, we can
only analyse in Santianes de Pravia and Veranes. All of these circumstances of
the Asturian kingdom in the times that the church was built, lead us to consider
that the fundamental element that Santianes provides to the late Asturian art,
which consists on the the utilization of round arches upon pillars in the
structure of the naves, must be considered as a leap backwards within the
Hispanic building tradition, rather than attributing it to probable external

If we start from that base and bear in mind that, as we have
seen, a great amount of the remains preserved from the original construction,
have clear precedents in monuments of different phases of the previous Spanish
art, we reach the conclusion that we are in front of a building that is the
result of the fusion of several heterogeneous elements. In it we find a plan
that recalls the basilic structures of the Paleo-Christian type  paleocristiano, Santianes de Pravia: Present plan according to latest excavationsmixed with semicircular casted chevet, three naves with flat roof, portico and
baptistry with independent access from the outside, with so dissimilar elements
like the round arches in brick upon pillars, similar to those used in Roman
architecture; a Visigothic type crossing; the decoration, also Visigothic, that
could have been reutilized or developed for the church according to techniques
and styles that still prevailed, or the utilization of the portico as a royal
mausoleum. All of that makes Santianes de Pravia a clear example of the theory
we have exposed in the introduction of this study, in the sense that eclecticism
is the funadamental characteristic of all Spanish Pre-Romanesque Art, except
during the reigns of Alphonse the Second and Alphonse the Third. In fact this
church is already a clear precedent of the later Asturian art, but it had been
built prior to the times of Alphonse the Second, when the design of this type of
buildings was normalized, utilizing without any prefixed norm both in its
structure as in its decoration, different elements that were already available,
and out of them, only one, although a basic one, was kept as a fixed
characteristic in all the later Asturian art, except in the Ramirense period:
the series of round arches upon square pillars.

It is also to bear in mind in this case the possibility that
what is considered a new contruction of king Silo could have been the
reconstruction of a basilic that already existed from Paleo-Christian times.
Though within the assimilation we propose for Santianes of different previous
architectural elements, the type of construction and the rest of the mentioned
characteristics are prefectly acceptable for a building of the times of king
Silo; the presence of a baptismal immersion font is beyond thinking at the end
of the eighth century. If on top of that we consider that our church stands in
what had been a city of Roman origin that, as Varenes, had been inhabited until
then, and the plan structure, so similar to the remains of the church of
Varenes, it would be quite logical to think that it could have contained a
basilic of a previous period upon which the construction of Silo would have been
erected, keeping a great part of the shape of the plan and of the baptismal
font. But we are afraid that after so many modifications suffered throughout the
centuries it will be very difficult to reach a definite conclusion both on the
subject as well as on the original elevations of this church.

Other interesting information

Access: From Oviedo, take A-66 to Gijón for 20Km till A8/E70; continue
for 28Km till AS16. Continue for 5.5Km in Pravia to take AS-224. At 1 Km you
will find the diversion to Santianes. GPS Coordinates: 43º 30′ 7,26″N
6º 5′ 57,18″W.
Information Telephone: Tourist office, 985 82 12 04. Advance booking essential on the Tourist Office.

Visiting hours: from Tuesday to Friday 10am to 2pm and from 4pm to 6pm and Saturdays from 11am to 13am, with prior reservation of the visit either at the counter of the Pravia tourist office, on the phone 985 82 12 04 or in the e-mail oficinaturismo@pravia.es.

Museum: next to the church there is a museum of the Pre-romanesque where the original pieces recovered in the works of rehabilitation of the church are exhibited, an introductory video to know the history of the Church and the Asturian Monarchy, Expolicative panels, models… The tour includes a guided tour of the museum and church and lasts 45-60 minutes in total.



Arte Pre-románico Asturiano: Antonio Bonet Correa

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

Arte Asturiano: José Manuel Pita Andrade


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