The Monastery of San Miguel de Escalada

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

San Miguel de Escalada was consecrated in c.951 and was built on the site of an earlier Visigothic temple dedicated to St Michael. It was founded by a group of monks from Cordoba who were escaping from religious intolerance. After that the community had a mixed history, as this article explains. Like many others, 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.

The Church of San Miguel de Escalada

The remains of the Monastery of San Miguel de Escalada

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

The Church of San Miguel de Escalada

A wide central nave and two side aisles

A wide central nave and two side aisles

Looking towards the high altar

The pitched roof and alabaster ‘clerestory’ windows

The roof, with faint paintings of lions from the 15C

Decoration is limited and curious. There are carved stone ‘gates’ to the small side chapel and I believe these are Visigothic motifs – 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.

Capital inside the church

The porch was an ‘overflow’ for the church, but apparently coffins also rested here before funerals, rather like the lych gates in England. I saw several of these porches in the north of Spain.

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?

What my photographs don’t show clearly is that the 10C Pre-Romanesque church is separated from the later, taller building which includes a tower from the end of the 11C. This sections 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. 

The Commentary of San Miguel de Esdalada (http://iesleopoldocano.centros.educa.jcyl.es/aula/archivos/repositorio/0/5/html/web/etapa4/escalada/beato.html)

Magical.

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