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Romanesque hermitages of la Garrotxa

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Romanesque hermitages of la Garrotxa

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La Garrotxa county is full of small Romanesque hermitages, some of them millenary, scattered through hills and valleys.

Description

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La Garrotxa Romanesque art: The vast majority of the medieval architectural remains of La Garrotxa date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, although there are some buildings constructed before the 11th century. In fact, the Romanesque architecture of La Garrotxa follows the architectural guidelines of the 12th century Romanesque art. However, there are no remains of any church prior to the 11th century in La Garrotxa, although there are several documented references which indicate the importance these churches had in the past. Unfortunately, the few remains left consist of the apses and buildings, reformed at a later date. In La Garrotxa we can find examples of traditional Romanesque art, such as the Lombard arcades, although there are also vestiges of a more advanced Romanesque art. It is quite normal to find the structure of side arches supporting the vault of the church nave, where the Lombard blind arcades are more of a constructive and technologic element than a decorative one. The common features of the Romanesque buildings are the following: They are orientated to the east, where the sun rises. It was also believed that paradise was in that direction. They have a Latin-cross layout, that is to say, two crossed naves, the main one being wider and longer.
  • There is an apse and, sometimes, some chapels.
  • They have curved ceilings, supported by semi-circular arches.
  • Their walls are low and strong, with small windows.
  • They have buttresses to support the walls from the outside.
  • They are influenced by Byzantine art.
  • Use of the fresco technique.
  • Imperfect mastery of perspective.
  • Spot colours.
  • Rigid and hieratical images.
  • Lack of a background or landscape. 
Nearly everyone knows that on the inside of Romanesque buildings there were fresco paintings on the walls, although what most people do not know is that they might have been on the outside walls as well. These paintings have been destroyed over the years due to exposure to environmental elements. Its existence is supported by scientific evidence. Apart from being decorative elements, the paintings and sculptures also served a religious purpose. Since most people at that time did not know how to read or write, these images were used to depict the characters of the Christian religion. This is why people tend to say that Romanesque churches are illustrated bibles.
La Garrotxa Romanesque art: We call Romanesque art to the way people constructed buildings and made sculptures or paintings a thousand years ago. Along this route, we will visit some churches and buildings which were constructed between eight hundred and one thousand years ago. Right after La Garrotxa had been conquered by the Saracen.

Curiosity

Many of these churches have animal shaped bolts (usually of snakes and dragons). There are very few documented references of those times, but snakes and dragons represent the guards of the threshold which separates the real and the supernatural world. The snakes and dragons are there to prevent enemies entering holy places. The bar of the bolt represents the mythical beast which the Apocalypse of St. John tells us about. The protection offered by the snakes and dragons is reinforced by the Chi-Rho, one of the earliest forms of christogram formed by superimposing the first two (capital) letters chi and rho of the Greek word for Christ. An iron key indicates us that Saint Peter has the key leading to Heaven.

Additional data

We recommend you to visit the monastery of Sant Sepulcre de Palera. It was built more than 1,000 years ago and it belonged to the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, who fought in the crusades to defend Jerusalem. Therefore, the monastery was granted the same privileges as the ones in the Holy Land, thousands of kilometres away. Visiting the Sant Sepulcre de Palera is similar to touching the walls in Jerusalem.

More information

Geography: Along this route we will go over several zones in La Garrotxa: Alta Garrotxa, Les Preses and Maià de Montcal.
The Alta Garrotxa is one of the most important territories in the eastern Pyrenees. Half way between the comarques of La Garrotxa, El Ripollès and L’Empordà, the Alta Garrotxa comprises the villages of Beuda, Montagut i Oix, Sales de Llierca, Tortellà, Sant Joan les Fonts and La Vall de Bianya, which we will later visit. We will also stop at Les Preses, a village located 4 km away from Olot, the capital of La Garrotxa, which is part of the La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. Although it is an independent village, it is located in La Vall d’en Bas and its landscape is composed by crest lines, cliffs and hills.

History: La Garrotxa is a comarca that has been inhabited since thousands of years ago, as shown by the evidence of many human settlements which go from the Palaeolithic to Roman and Benedictine times, like in Sant Aniol d’Aguja. During the Medieval Ages, in this comarca, some simple churches and hermitages were built in a style known today as Romanesque.

Common vocabulary of Romanesque architecture
  • Altar: a table made of wood or stone used to celebrate the mass.
  • Apse: an area with curved walls at the end of a building, usually at the east end of a church where the chancel is found.
  • Baptismal font: it is an article of church used for the baptism.
  • Belfry: a structure enclosing bells, usually as part of a bell tower or steeple.
  • Bell tower: a tower that contains one or more bells or that is designed to hold bells, even if it does not have any. 
  • Capital: an architectural element crowning the upper part of a column. It can be sculpted with floral, animal or human motifs.
  • Conjuratory: a small building in the shape of a porch located near the church. The priest used to stand there when chasing away storms and hailstorms.
  • Corbel: an architectural element jutting from the apse, which is used to support something.
  • Chancel: the part of a church containing the altar, where the priests and choir sit.
  • Holy water font: it is an article of church located on the entrance used to cross oneself when entering the temple.
  • Nave: it is the body of a church, comprised between the walls, arches, pillars or columns.
  • Oil font: a stone font, normally square or rectangular, where the holy oils are kept.
  • Reliquary box: a small container for relics. 
  • Round arch: an arch formed in a continuous curve.
  • Transverse arch: an arch whose span is at right angles to the length of a vaulted space.
  • Tympanum: semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over a Romanesque or Gothic entrance, bounded by a lintel and arch.