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