A digital gate open to heritage
On the outskirts of Vitoria-Gasteiz lies the basilica of San Prudencio and San Andrés de Armentia, seat of the cult of San Prudencio, patron saint of Álava. Built as a collegiate church during the 12th century, the pressure from the neighbouring town of Vitoria made the place fall into decay, hitting the bottom on the 18th century, when it had already lost its cloister and other spaces of the complex. In 1776, probably due to a collapse on the part of the feet, a restoration of the temple was made, which modified its appearance forever. At that time part of the Romanesque remains were scattered and others were relocated to the portico, completely decontextualized. Despite this unfortunate intervention, today it is still one of the great Romanesque temples of the Basque Country.
The basilica of San Prudencio and San Andrés de Armentia
The basilica of Armentia was built in different phases throughout the 12th century. The oldest part and first to be built would be the semicircular apse, in which we find three interesting windows with a puzzling iconography.
On the exterior capitals of the apse windows we see complex representations, full of characters, some of them with an almost grotesque look, which coexist with lions, horses and griffins in scenes that are difficult to interpret. The capitals of fertility stand out, located in the north window. On the capital to the left, a naked woman appears, showing her backside and genitals on the lower part, whereas we can see her torso and her face on the upper part. Next to her, we see some feminine genitals to which a head and feet have been added. Those same genitals are outlined along the entire remaining surface. On the opposite capital we see a man holding his beard surrounded by two women, one in an advanced stage of pregnancy and another one holding her belly. All the characters carry in their hands branches of plants, symbol of fertility.
The images that can be today found out of context and distributed throughout the entire portico correspond to a different workshop to the one that operates in the apse area. It can be established towards the end of the 12th century due to an inscription in the tympanum of the lamb that gives us the authorship of “Rodericus Eps”, that is, Rodrigo de Cascante, Bishop of Calahorra, dated between 1146 and 1190. The tympanum of the lamb, which in its day was probably located over a door that no longer exists, shows an Agnus Dei or lamb of God in a circle, flanked by the prophets Isaiah and Saint John the Baptist. In the lower strip we find two angels holding a Chi Rho where the Trinity is symbolically represented. The tomb of an ecclesiastic lies under this tympanum, behind some bars of stone.
Armentia undoubtedly presents the best collection of corbels that can be found in the alavaise Romanesque art. It is known that they were relocated during the restorations and that their current order does not correspond to the original. Among the images of the corbels the fantastic imaginary prevails: mermaids, griffins, harpies, hybrid beings, horned men spitting leaves… But there are also characters and animals of daily life, like monks, women and men, a spinario or boy taking off a spine of his foot, owls, lions, goats or a character leaning out of the interior of a medieval building.
De las fotografías actuales: © Alava Medieval / Erdi Aroko Araba
De las fotografías antiguas: Archivo Municipal de Vitoria-Gasteiz / Interior de Armentia, tomado de: Manuel Díaz de Arcaya, Armentia, su basílica y su obispado, 1901.