San Vicente in Avila

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The Basilica of San Vicente in Avila, also known as the Basilica of the Holy Brothers Martyrs, Vincent, Sabina and Cristeta. It is national monument and a World Heritage Site even thought it is outside the walls of Avila.

A brief history

Giral Fruchel, Maestro Fruchel, was the architect/builder who came to Spain from France in the 12th century. He also built the Apse of the Cathedral in Avila and Santa Maria Magdalena in Zamora.

Plan of the Basilica of San Vicente:

The church is built of ‘Calena stone’, a yellow/orange stone whch is quarried at Le Colilla, close to Avila. Around the High Altar they used ‘Bleeding’ stone which is very rich in iron oxides and has strong streaks of red. This stone is also used in the Cathedral and gives a very distinctive appearance to the Ambulatory. It is apparently not sandstone, as widely described, but a silicified granite (!).1

The Basilica dates from the 11th century when the city was being repopulated and rebuilt.

Basilica of San Vincente
Basilica of San Vincente
Basilica of San Vicente
Portico on the south side of the Basilica (no.6)
Carvings on the Apse (no.14)

The South Door is also called the Door of the Annunciation and there is a beautiful carving of the Annunciation on one side of the door, with unknown figures on the opposite side.

South Door (no.7)

The West Door is the main entrance, an ornate Romanesque structure, full of detail. One’s needs so much time to take it all in…!

West Door (no.1)

Inside the church

As you walk inside the church the building seems to soar in a way which the outside appearance conceals.

Basilica of San Vicente in Avila
Body of the Basilica
Looking at the High Altar
San Vicente in Avila
Side aisle of San Vicente

The Saints

The siblings, Vincent, Sabina and Cristeta, were killed in 306 because, as Christians, they refused to sign a document recognising the Roman Gods.2 Their bodies were buried in a ravine in Avila (a rock is now in the Crypt of the church) but in the 12th century, when the Moors and Christians were fighting in the region, their remains were removed to San Pedro de Arlanza for safety. In the 19th century the remains were moved again – to Covarrubias and Burgos – before returning to Avila.A cenotaph near the high altar commemorates the saints.

There is another saint associated with the church, San Pedro del Barco, and it is a touching story.

Views in the church

In the Crypt

The Virgin Soterrano is a curious chapel in the Crypt of the Basilica. She is the Patron Saint of Avila. Tradition says that St Theresa took off her shoes here as a sign of her intention to reform the Carmelite order….

Crypt of San Vicente in Avila
Chapel of the Virgin in the Crypt

The Basilica of San Vicente in Avila is a beautiful and elegant building, nearly 1,000 years old, and one of the best examples of its kind in Spain. I felt privileged to have seen it.

  1. Sandstone or granite: ↩︎
  2. The Martyrs: ↩︎

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