The boost given by Alphonse the Third to the Reconquest, that moved the borderline up to the Duero river, generated the need to repopulate the new territories, what in many cases was achieved with Mozarabian Christians that were escaping from Al Andalus in a period in which their relationship with the Caliphate had become much complicated, after the movement of the "Christian martyrs" that had been lead in Cordoba by St. Eulogio and Álvaro, and the creation in the mountain range of Ronda of an independent kingdom by Omar ben Hafsun, also of Mozarabic origin. One of the most favoured areas by this resettlement boost, with the total support of the monarchs of León, was this territory, protected from the Arabs' attacks by the Duero and Pisuegra rivers and the shelter of the Mounts of Torozo, where we find San Cebrián de Mazote and Santa María de Wamba and, in its near environment, the remains of the magnificent decoration of San Román de Hornija. Another fact to bear in mind is that we are dealing with a zone that was already important in Visigothic times, since it is quite possible that Wamba, located at just 27 Km far was the ancient Gérticos, probably the place where the king Recesvinto had been borne and where he had founded a monastery where te remains of Wamba had been placed, upon which Santa María was rebuilt. It also seems to be proven that the Visigothic king Chindasvinto ordered the building of a monastery that would later become San Román de Hornija and where he was burried in 653.
The origins of the religious community that settled in Mazote seem to be quite clear. Through the Chartulary of the Monastery of St. Martin de Castañeda we know that in 915 some monks from Mazote had moved there together with their abbot Martin, we supposed that pushed by the famine and the pest that devastated in those years a great part of the peninsula. According to the information in the Chartulary, they acquired the rights on some lands and fisheries in the Sanabria lake, that were the origin of the monastery. This seems to demonstrate that prior to 915 the community of St. Cebrián was totally formed, probably since the end of the ninth or beginning of the tenth century. The importance of the church that has been preserved makes us think that it had grown very rapidly and that only a few monks emigrated to Bierzo, keeping the normal activity of the monsatery, which church was only finished a few years later.
San Cebrián de Mazote, measuring 30m long by 14m wide, that reached up to 16m in the transept, and some 11m high in the central nave, is the largest Mozarabic church that has reached to these days. Besides it is a clear example of the eclecticism that we have referred to related with the Visigothic art and that was kept during the Mozarabic period, as in its structure mingle in an incredibly harmonic way, elements and technical solutions that came from the multiple artistic influences that had existed in Spain in the former centuries.
Built in rough stone with big masonry stones in the corners of the building, its external appearance is impressive. From east to west we see a triple flat chevet, of clear Asturian reminiscence, where the central apse hangs out in a similar way as the one of Santa María de Lebeña, though whilst in the latter one the laterals have the shape of trapezes, in Mazote the walls are parallel,forming two almost square lateral apses, with a total width in the chevet of 14m, identical to the naves. However, when we look at the second body, due to its external appearance, it seems it had been inspired by the Visigothic cruciform churches, like Santa Comba de Bande or San Pedro de la Nave, as it consists in a sort of transept nave that sticks out one meter on each side of the rest of the church, of the same height as the the central apse and higher than the naves and the lateral apse swith a crossing lantern in its intersection with the central nave, which height stands out clearly over the rest of the buiding. The mixture of elements of different styles does not end there, since while the structure of the next stretch is the one of a classic three nave basilic, being the central one much wider and much more higher than the lateral ones, upon which four horsehose-arch-windows open on each side of the walls of the central nave, the last stretch is a surprising occidental apse, similar to the one of Santiago de Peñalba, with a clear influence of the Northafrican churches of apses against each other of the fifth century, that expanded throughout the south and west of the peninsula during the sixth century, from which the remains of the Vega de Mar is a good example. It is also interesting to notice the buttresses of Asturian type in the lateral apses and at the sides of the transept. The final result is a very complex but harmonious ensemble, formed by four central volumes of different height and three other at each side, with ten perfectly differentiated roofs with one, two and three slopes. Later a huge medieval belfry was added to the west apse, and a compartment attached to the northern side of the crossing, that distort the present appearance of the ensemble.
The church went through an important campaign of restoration that started in 1932 and went on until 1945 because of the war, and in the las quarter of the 20th century important maintenance works have been achieved, to leave it in an excellent state of conservation. Today, the restored parts in the exterior can be seen clearly without any shocking note, while in the interior some vaults were rebuilt, the whole dome and the west apse, and the result is an example that many "stylists" should follow, more interested in leaving their mark in the monuments they restore than in recovering the cultural heritage.
On gaining access to its interior we find ourselves with a very eclectic and harmonious atmosphere as the one of its exterior appearance. In principle, it seems we are in a classical church of basilical type, with three naves separated by series of high arches supported by marble columns upon bases, in both cases possibly reutilized, finishing in magnificent Mozarabic capitals. The three naves are covered, also in the classical style, by wooden roofs; the central one with a gable roof, remade in the 16th century and reaches 11m high, and the lateral ones with one plane only, that only rich 6m, which lets the opening of the four windows at each side of the central one, which we have already referred to, and provide an excellent lighting of the whole church. But this classical apearance changes when looking the arches in broad horseshoe, extended up to 3/5 of its radius, and with the extrados in excentrical curve, very much in line with the caliphal style. The ensemble of the three naves and the series of horseshoe arches is similar to the one of San Miguel de Escalada, though higher, and has a clear precedent in San Juan de Baños.
From here, the other elements of its structure, although all of them with precedents in the Spanish architecture prior to its period, form an unprecedental ensemble that will not be found in later Spanish or European art. In fact, the chevet is formed by three apses, following the Asturian type that we have already seen repeated in several Mozarabic churches, but in this case, while the laterals are of rectangular plan, as in Lebeña, the central one has the shape of a horseshoe inscribed in a rectangle, as San Miguel de Escalada, Peñalba and other Mozarabic churches, among which it is necessary to point out its interesting similarity with the form of the plan of the excavated church of Bobastro, capital city of the rebel government to the caliphate created by Omar ben Hafsun in the mountain range of Ronda, which was also basilical, with three naves and transept and three apses of a very similar shape to those of Mazote. In it we find the transept formed by two curvacious compartments, inlaid in a rectangle, like the central apse, that have an outward facing door and communicate with the central nave and with the lateral nave and apses through horseshoe arches. Sometimes this structure has been compared to the clover shaped chevet of the Visigothic basilic of St. Acisclo in Cordoba, which the monks that created Mazote would have known, and with Marialba's, La Cocosa's, San Pedro de Tarrasa and la cripta de San Miguel, also in Tarrasa; but all these cases correspond to to just one apse churches to which apsidioles have been added, whilst San Cebriánis a three apse church, suggesting a different purpose and thus generating a very different appearance. Upon the intersection of the crossing with the central nave, a high dome stands up, which walls support themselves upon the large horseshoe arches that form the transept's square. The church, with lateral accesses as most of the churches built in the Mozarabic period, closes at its west end through a large apse against the Northafrican type chevet, as we have mentioned already. Its interior has also a horseshoe shape, in this case of a 6m diameter, inlaid in a rectangle that is reached by a horseshoe arch, similar to those that support the lantern of the crossing and count with one access door on its southern side.
Special mention deserves the covering system. Except in the basilical zone, covered by a flat wooden roof, the rest of spaces is vaulted. The two lateral rectangular apses through groin vaults; the central one, the opposite one and the two arms of the crossing through sophisticated gallonadas vaults, upon fine imposts of double concave mouldings with different number of segments -five in the central apse, nine in the opposite one and eight at the sides of the crossing- since in all cases the vault keeps the same shape as its plan that in the crossing is solved through an original system formed by a lunula that rests on a rectangle, as can be seen in the apsidiole in the south side, where the restorers left two of theses lunulas uncovered. With regard to the transept's dome, that had disappeared (although Gómez Moreno had suggested a four pitched wooden coverage due to the weakness of the walls that supported it), was rebuilt during its restoration imitating the one of Peñalba, with a gallonada vault, that stems out from four arches attached to the walls that join themselves at the corners through corbels with th shape of a fourth of a pyramid.
It is also quite interesting the way how the differences in size of the different types of arches was solved; all horseshoe arches extended approximately 3/5 of their radius. In fact, the central zone is defined by five arches of the same size at each side; a higher arch that gives access to the west apse and, on the side of the transept, formed by three large arches plus the one of the entrance to the main apse, a bit smaller, similar to the opposite one. The lateral arches rest upon the four columns that separate the naves and end in columns attached to the walls of the west apse and the crossing, to which the columns that support the rest of the larger arches of the central zone are also attached. Different to Lebeña, where the columns attached to a pillar are of different height, depending on the size of each arch, in San Cebrián de Mazote all the columns are of the same height, except the one that supports the arch of the lateral nave, for what the visible part of the extrados in the larger arches has been reduced. The visual effect produced by the set of arches of different size stemming from similar columns results very interesting and original.
Of no lesser interest is its engraved drill bit carved decoration, of the same period of the church. Besides a Mozarabic capital turned into a stoup, and a stone block with figurative decoration, probably coming from an inner door that does not exist any longer, the capitals that support the arches form one of the most important ensembles in Mozarabic art. We can appreciate in them the complete development of a new decoration of great quality. In fact, from its first group of capitals -the ones placed in the columns with no lateral series of arches and in the counterapse's arch- of a very simple decoration based on Priesca type palm leaves and clear Asturian ascendant, going along through de central nave from the west apse towards the chevet, we follow the development of a style of its own in which we continue leaving behind two capitals of a very free imitation of the Byzantine type of the fifth century to other four that represent the flourishing of the style of the former ones, enlarging the more simplified decoration to which geometric motifs are added, and reaching the two closer to the transept with a very well balanced quality of carving, beauty and decorative ingenuity, that place the Mozarabic sculpture at the highest rank that will show its continuity in the big capitals that have been preserved of San Román de Hornija.
San Cebrián de Mazote is, with its complex structure in which we find Paleochristian, Northafrican, Visigothic, Asturian and Arabic elements, that give shape to a work of great originality, besides being one of the most important monuments of Spanish Pre Romanesque art that has reached to the present days, a clear example of the quality attained, both technical as well as aesthetical in such a difficult period and specially of the freedom the creators had to utilize all the artistic influences that had been deposited in Spain during the preceecding centuries, without any previous conditionings, to develop new solutions and artistic trends, what makes us think where would the Spanish Pre Romanesque had reached had it not been suffocated by the Gregorian reform and the Romanesque art to which it had so much contributed.
We may not leave without congratulating those responsible for the restoration in the middle of the last century and its maintenance and present conservation, for the magnific state of the construction and for the respect to what we suppose was its structure and original aesthetics, quite different to what is taking place now with othe Spanish medieval monuments.
OTHER INFORMATION OF INTEREST
Access: Leave Valladolid through A-62 until Tordesillas. Take there A6 until exit 209 towards Tiedra-San Cebrián de Mazote through VP-6605 until San Cebrián de Mazote. Total distance: 62.7Km.
GPS Coordinates: 41º 40' 51,18"N 5º 8' 48,88"W.
Information telephone: Ayuntamiento de San Cebrián de Mazote; only Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Tel.: 983 78 01 47.
Visiting Hours: From April through October: From 11 to 14 and from 17 to 19. Mondays closed. Open the rest of the year from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday from 11 to 14 and from 16:30 to 18:30.
Imagen del Arte Mozárabe; José Fernández Arenas
SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo VIII
L'Art Préroman Hispanique - L'Art Mozarabe: Jacques Fontaine (ZODIAQUE)
Arte y Arquitectura en España 500/1250: Joaquín Yarza
Vicente Lampérez: La iglesia de San Cebrián de Mazote
San Cebrián de Mazote
La intervención en la arquitectura prerrománica asturiana: Jorge Hevia Blanco, Gema Elvira Adán Álvarez