San Miguel de Escalada is one of the main pre-romanesque monuments from the province of León. It was a monastery consecrated in 913 to accommodate monks from Cordova, but currently only the church and some other dependencies.
It is located in the municipality of Gradefes, about twenty-seven kilometers from the capital of León and in the The Santiago Way. The monastery was built on an old Visigoth church consecrated, apparently, to San Miguel. If you want to know more about this jewel of the pre-Romanesque, we invite you to continue reading.
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History of San Miguel de Escalada
In the year 912, a group of monks led by Abbot Alfonso arrived in this area of León. Determined to stay there, they built in just one year a monastery that, already in 913, would be consecrated by the bishop Saint Genadius of Astorga.
For its construction, they took advantage of materials from the primitive Visigothic construction of which we were talking about. This is still visible on one of its walls, where you can see an inscription from the original temple. For its part, the monastery lived its heyday in the XNUMXth century, at which time some new construction elements were added.
Already in the XIX, with the Confiscation caused by Mendizábal of the ecclesiastical property, San Miguel de la Escalada was abandoned. However, it underwent several restorations and, as early as 1886, declared National Monument.
Characteristics of San Miguel de Escalada
As we told you, this construction responds to the characteristics of the pre-romanesque art. That is, to the same that they present Santa María del Naranco o San Miguel de Lillo in Oviedo. Broadly speaking, it combines Visigoth elements with other Mozarabic elements.
However, current experts prefer to call it restocking art. The reason, as you may have guessed, is that it was built by the Christians who were settling in the lands of Castile abandoned by the Muslims to repopulate them. But, as these border areas always drive contacts, this style also has a strong mozarabic element, that is, due equally to the Christians but that came from territory owned by Al-Aldalus.
On the other hand, as we have also mentioned, the San Miguel complex received several extensions in times after its construction. Among those that are conserved, the great romanesque tower from the XNUMXth century that dominates the southern part of the complex.
But, among the parts of the construction that are preserved today, the church is the most important element. Have basilica plant and it is divided into three naves that, in turn, are separated by arches of the traditional horseshoe arches Muslims. Likewise, between the naves and the head of the temple there is a perpendicular space that functions as transept and that it would be destined for the clergy in ceremonies.
For its part, the header has three apses that are semicircular on the inside, but rectangular on the outside. In addition, these are covered by gallon vaults similar to those you can see in many Arab mosques.
Between the transept and the head there is a iconostasis formed by cross-shaped pillars that, in the Hispanic liturgy, concealed the priest from the faithful during the Consecration. This was a ceremonial norm that was maintained in the peninsular liturgy until the Roman one was adopted in the XNUMXth century. The iconostasis was the architectural element that provided that privacy. Normally, it was a screen decorated with religious motifs that was placed before the altar. It began to be used in Byzantine temples, from where it passed to the West.
As for the exterior, the temple lacks an advanced portico, something common in Asturian pre-Romanesque. The entrances are lateral and in its western part. Precisely, on the south side of the church there is a arcaded gallery with horseshoe arches that beautifies the whole. This constructive element, somewhat later as it was built in the XNUMXth century, is also typical of Asturian temples and would later be widely used in the romanesque architecture.
Regarding the lighting of the church, it also follows the features of other early Christian temples. Therefore, it is achieved with small windows in the flown wall of both the main nave and the apses. Finally, the roof is supported in two phases and has a wide eaves slope.
It was the last construction element to be added to the San Miguel de Escalada complex, as early as the XNUMXth century. It has thick buttresses and originally consisted of three floors. The interior is accessed through a door with a semicircular arch that takes you to the Chapel of San Fructuoso, also known as Pantheon of Abbots.
But it mainly highlights the double horseshoe arch window. Its presence is curious because the tower is Romanesque. Therefore, this type of bow was no longer used. If this was done, it was to imitate the one found in the western part of the temple.
Finally, the ornamentation of San Miguel de Escalada is very rich for its time. It consists of capitals, friezes, lattices and doors. As for their motives, vegetables abound. For example, bunches, leaves and palm trees. But there are also other geometric shapes such as braiding or meshes and animals, such as birds pecking at bunches of vine.
The codex of San Miguel de Escalada
Around the year 922, the abbot Victor, of the Leonese monastery that concerns us, had a codex created that would copy the 'Commentary on the Book of Revelation' from Beatus of Liebana. The result was the so-called 'Blessed of San Miguel de Escalada', attributed to the master illuminator Magius. However, this codex, apparently, was not made in the Leonese monastery, but in that of San Salvador de Tábara, located in the Zamora town of the same name. Currently, the 'Beato de San Miguel de Escalada' is preserved in the Morgan Library New York.
How to get to San Miguel de Escalada
This monument is located, as we told you, in the Leonese municipality of Gradefes. The only way to get to the monument is by road. You have buses from the capital of the province, but they are not too frequent. Our advice is that you go in your own car.
To do it from León, you must take the N-601 that connects the city with Valladolid. At the height of Villarente you have to take the LE-213 which will take you to Gradefes. But, before reaching the capital of the municipality, you must take a deviation to the left announcing the monastery.
In conclusion, San Miguel de Escalada It is one of the main pre-Romanesque buildings in all of Castile. Related to her Asturian contemporaries, her beauty will not leave you indifferent. Go ahead and visit it.