Monastery of San Miguel de Escalada

posted in: Europe, Home, Leon, Spain | 0

The Monastery of San Miguel de Escalada is about 10 kms away from the Convent of Santa Maria la Real in Gradefes and it is another magical and surprising church in countryside which feels very remote.

Countryside between Gradefes and San Miguel de Escalada

History of the Monastery of San Miguel

San Miguel de Escalada is built on the site of an earlier Visigothic temple which was dedicated to St Michael. San Miguel was consecrated in c.951. A group of monks from Cordoba wanted to escape religious intolerance in that city and founded this monastery. After that, the community had a mixed history, as this article explains. Like many other religious institutions the monastery was abandoned in 1836 when the state expropriated church lands and today only the church remains. The building is a mix of Mozarabic (or Pre-Romanesque) and Romanesque architecture and absolutely exquisite. As always, one visit doesn’t begin to uncover all the delights, but sadly it isn’t always possible to return.

Monastery of San Miguel de Escalada
The remains of the Monastery of San Miguel de Escalada

Inside the church

As you step through the arches of the porch and into the church you are in another era, another culture. The light in the church is soft and filters through alabaster windows. It reminded me more of the Mosque in Cordoba than a Christian Church.

Inside the Monastery of San Miguel de Escalada
A wide central nave and two side aisles
The interior of the church
A wide central nave and two side aisles
INside the church
Looking towards the high altar
The wooden ceiling
The pitched roof and alabaster ‘clerestory’ windows
Painting on the ceiling
The roof, with faint paintings of lions from the 15C

Inside the church there is very little decoration. There are carved stone ‘gates’ to the small side chapel and I believe these are Visigothic motifs, perhaps from the original temple? The capitals of the columns are very simple. The capitals of the pillars in the porch seem to be more elaborate.

Carved capitals
Capital inside the church

The exterior of the church

The porch was an ‘overflow’ for the church congregation but apparently also gave shelter to coffins before a funeral, rather like the lych gates in England. I saw several of these porches in the north of Spain.

The porch of San Miguel de Escalada
The porch of the early church

Behind the church are foundations – perhaps the remains of the monastery buildings?

The remains of the monastery?
The remains of the monastery?
The remains of the monastery?
The remains of the monastery?

The buildings today are the 10C Pre-Romanesque church and the older and taller building which includes a tower from the end of the 11C. This section stands to one side of the early church. Underneath the tower is a chapel which was not open. The separation is a little clearer in the photograph below.

The Pre-Romanesque church, with porch, on the left, and the slightly later Chapel and tower on the right
San Miguel de Escalada

One last thought: this monastery apparently held one of the Commentaries of Saint Béatus of Liébana who we discovered in Potes. 


Further information
San Miguel de Escalada
A detailed and interesting article on the site
Photos and history, and here
The Commentary of San Beatus commissioned by the Monastery at Escalada, and here

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