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- The restoration of the hermitage
- Old photographs
- About the church
Located on a small hill near Argómaniz, not far from the Parador, the hermitage of Saint Peter of Quilchano stands as a small temple of Romanesque origin. Although its first mention goes back to the 11th century, the first documentary news that we have about this place dates from 1257, when the town of Gulciano is mentioned. Thus, this church is the old parish of a village of the same name. Without being able to specify an exact reason and date, the depopulation of this primitive town can be established in the year 1484, when the town of Elburgo disputed the possession of the land with Iñigo de Guevara, count of Oñate. The church of Saint Peter, despite its apparent modesty and simplicity, is a good example of how Romanesque churches have evolved over the centuries, reaching surprising solutions in recent times.
The restoration of the hermitage
The church of Saint Peter has undergone several restorations throughout its history, some of them more visible than others. Thus, the appearance of the current hermitage is mainly the result of the combination of the renovations from the 18th century, when the vaults were replaced and the bell gable disappeared, and a last major renovation carried out in the 1990s. During the latter, it was decided to knock down the west wall to build a large window that, in turn, serves as an entrance to the temple. Therefore, while the serious structural problems of the building are solved, this large window helps to intuit the original size that the church had in its origins. Along with this addition, the roof was replaced and the porch was removed. Consequently, this restoration was intended to consolidate the essential and primitive elements of the temple, while the building was reinforced. With the idea of fleeing from a false reconstruction of the past, it was decided to add new elements that would contribute to its interpretation and knowledge.
Hermitage of Saint Peter of Quilchano
About the church
The first church of Quilchano, dating from the 12th century, had a single and simple nave that ended in a straight apse. The original temple, somewhat larger, had an access door in the south wall in its day, which disappeared over time. Nowadays, only part of the foundations and two Romanesque windows, still visible around the temple, are preserved from this first construction.
Due to a landslide, this first church suffered a partial collapse, which forced to rebuild part of the building at the beginning of the 14th century. Thus, taking advantage of the same materials and based on the original ground plan, the church was rebuilt with some alterations. After the reconstruction, the village was depopulated and the church was eventually abandoned in the remaining years until it ended up in a state of semi-abandonment.
Two of the most remarkable elements of this church are, without the slightest doubt, its Romanesque windows. Dating from the late 12th century, following a typical chronology of the Álava Plains, these windows are, together with part of the foundations, the only remains of the first church of Quilchano.
Although it is not thought that the current location of the windows corresponds to their original location, one of these windows is located in the east end. Its decoration is based on a double round archivolt whose arches rest on smooth imposts. On the other hand, the shafts stand out for their elegant decoration. While the right ones have a basket pattern carving, the left ones show a grid of flowers. On the other hand, the outer capitals show a vegetal decoration. The interior ones, however, represent several confronting animals, from whose mouths emerge vegetable rinceaux.
The window on the south side has a single arch and a slightly more pointed discharging arch. With a smooth impost, this shaft also stands out due to its flower grid design. In this case, the capitals on the right show an undulating decoration, rather damaged, while on the left side we can see vegetable elements, this time based on oak leaves and volutes.
From the outside, the large window built in the last restoration of the temple draws our attention. This addition, which brings more brightness to the temple, pretends to be a continuation of the main nave of the temple, hinting at the original size of the first church, somewhat larger than the current one.
However, from the phase corresponding to the 14th century, some chromatic vestiges are also preserved, mainly on the south wall, where a kind of yellow borders can be observed.
Despite this, most of the paintings that can be seen inside the temple correspond to the third construction phase of the church. These paintings are much simpler and basically cover the surface of the wall in red. Of this phase, perhaps the most striking is the trompe l’oeil of the niche in the north wall, in which the shape of a small temple with classical columns and an access staircase can be intuited. This type of decoration was probably a complement to an image that would dominate this space.
Inside we can also see several openings, in addition to the Romanesque windows described above. In the south wall we find a hole with coupled arches that corresponds to the old credence table or liturgical cabinet that was used in medieval times to store the elements of worship.
Finally, we must comment on the only surviving carving from the temple. In the absence of the old baroque altarpiece that covered a large part of the apse, the baroque image of Saint Peter is preserved, which is the one that dominates the church today.
Current photographs: © Alava Medieval / Erdi Aroko Araba
Old photographs: Archivo del Territorio Histórico de Álava.