Discovering the Romanesque and early Gothic churches in the Val d’Aran
For end October/beginning November 2018 we had booked four nights in the Parador of Arties in the Val d’Aran. We found much to discover. Each mountain village has its own church and most of them are of Romanesque or early Gothic style.
Source: El valle de Aran
Besides Santa Maria in Arties, we have visited the churches of Vielha, Bossòst, Les, Escunhau, Salardú, Tredòs and Unha (main source: “Los caminos Pirenaicos del Arte Romanico”).
Vielha – Iglesia de Sant Miquèu
Vielha is the main town of the Aran valley. The octagonal tower of the church Sant Miquèu can be seen from far (early Gothic).
The portal is decorated with the Saint of the church, Michael who defeats the dragon-devil (early Gothic, 14th century). The five arcs of the portal contain sculptures to discover.
Inside the church we find the most precious treasure, the Christ of Mijaran. It is the only remaining part of a larger sculpture showing the deposition from the cross (12th century). It was crafted by master Erill from the Val de Boí. The Val de Boí is not far from here and last year we have visited their impressive Romanesque churches as well.
The Romanesque baptismal font is carefully decorated.
Inside the church are furthermore a gothic altar and gothic frescos.
Bossòst – Iglesia de la Mair de Diu dera Purificacion
Bossòst is another village with narrow streets, neat houses with shingled roofs and a Romanesque church, the Iglesia de la Mair de Diu dera Puricifacion (12th century). The bell tower with its twin windows and the threefold apsis are typical of the Lombardian stlye.
I particularly like the northern portal with Christ surrounded by the sun, the moon and the symbols of the evangelists.
The weather is about to change – the clouds shaped by the south wind are hanging above the belfry.
Les – Capilla de Sant Blas
In the next village, Les, we find the small Romanesque chapel called after Saint Blasius. It could well be that once upon a time this chapel was part of a larger church.
Strolling along the cobbled streets of Les, I find this shop that sells cider.
Escunhau – Iglesia de Sant Pèir
Just neighbouring Vielha, Escunhau is another one of those pretty villages. The Iglesia de Sant Pèir is above it.
The main portal is decorated with this plain and elegant sculpture showing Christ crucified. Can it be that some architects of 20th century churches came here for inspiration?
The cemetery has been decorated for 1st of November (All Saints).
Salardú: Iglesia de Sant Andrèu
The church of Salardú is named after Saint Andrew (13th century).
From the outside decoration, I above all like the “twinkling” face – it looks a bit like our “twinkle” emoticon.
Inside the church we find early gothic vaults.
The highlight is the wooden cross with Christ of Salardú. It is attributed to the same master Erill from the Val de Boí as the Christ in Vielha. Under the feet of Christ, Adam is about to revive from his grave.
On the back of the cross this beautiful angel looks at us.
I was so fascinated by the wooden cross that I did not notice, what Ursula noticed… this shrine…
… and the sculpture of Maria with her child.
The presbyterium is decorated with frescos showing biblical scenes; they are from the 17th century – Renaissance.
Tredòs – Santa Maria de Cap d’Aran
Tredòs is located in the upper part of the Val d’Aran. Their Romanesque church Santa Maria de Cap d’Aran from the 11th century is closed. The inhabitants are busy decorating the tombs in the cemetery.
The paintings that once were inside this church are now in the Cloisters Museum of New York (this may sound unbelievable, but it is true).
The small window fortunately has remained here.
Unha – Iglesia de Santa Eulària
Our last church visited is Santa Eulària in Unha. The mountains make a wonderful background for the Lombardian apsis.
Under the roof, there are various small faces and figures. This figure seems to have a pain in his back.
We stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of Unha and admire the shingled roofs.
Like all villages also Unha is still asleep waiting for the winter season to start and for the tourists to come. We find a bar open and we have an espresso on the balcony.
What a rich and well-kept culture in the rough mountains!
The Romanesque and early gothic churches are a rich and well-kept culture. The Val d’Aran is not the only valley with such a rich heritage at the border between Spain and France. To me the churches look like solid fortifications in the rough mountain valleys. The few ornaments are solemn and precious. They make the churches a wonderful place for worship.
It fascinates me to find the same style elements from Lombardy in the Pyrenées, in the Alps and even in Germany. In the 11th century, the masters from Lombardy had exported their way of building churches throughout central Europe. Networking was successful, though the infrastructure for travelling was very, very basic.
I could imagine going back to the Val d’Aran and neighbouring Valleys and combine hiking with visiting more Romanesque and early Gothic churches.
Conselh Generau d’Aran (Elisa Ros Barbosa): Er Art Romanic dera Val d’Aran, 2007
Pauline Chaboussou et alii: « Los caminos Pirenaicos del Arte Romanico”, Synidcat mixed du Pays Couserans, Anfigraf 2008