Regardless of the debate on whether there is a “Catalan Romanesque” which is different of the Romanesque in the rest of Europe or not –and I’ll stay out this because I lack the knowledge–, it’s clear that Romanesque art is a very important element in Catalan culture nowadays. Whether the Romanesque in Catalunya has a separate identity or not, the point is we have a lot of it, very beautiful, and very varied. There’s Romanesque heritage all around Catalunya and for all tastes. Maybe that’s the reason it is “trendy”, as some critics say. But, is that popularity undeserved? Personally, I don’t think so.
Romanesque –that style everyone knows by the square bell towers, the semicircular arches, and these weird paintings in MNAC, although it’s much more than that– started its expansion through Wester Europe between the end of the 10th century and the early 11th century. And it expanded a lot, very quickly, and with amazing uniformity. So much so, it’s considered the first fully constituted European medieval style. In Catalunya, it arrived very soon, promoted by figures like the famous Oliba. And, well, it had three long centuries to leave its mark in our land. And that mark is what we’re discussing today.
Romanesque heritage in Berguedà
A piece on Romanesque heritage in Catalunya would be endless –and you’d never read all of it–, so I’ll look after number one and focus on my home region, Berguedà. Even so, I’ll have to limit myself to mention the most important things, since civil and religious constructions add up to nearly 300!
Truth be said, most of these constructions are barely a handful of rocks nowadays. Or even less, some of them remain only as cites in paper. And those still standing are not fully Romanesque anymore: they have been extended, reformed, and rehabilitated over the centuries. However, there’s still a lot of Romanesque heritage in Berguedà which is worth discovering.
Sant Quirze de Pedret
Near Berga, Sant Quirze de Pedret is one of the most interesting examples in Berguedà, and one of the most noteworthy Romanesque buildings in Catalunya. Its origins are poorly documented, but it could date from the 10th century, with some parts going back to the 9th century. Thus, it would be a Pre-Romanesque building in origin. However, it had several alterations, being the main one from the Romanesque period. Hence, the church we see now is almost entirely Romanesque. From the outside, it’s a modest church, although it’s quite interesting because of the interplay of volumes and the three apses. However, Pedret’s true treasure is in the inside.
The church is particularly outstanding because of its paintings. Some of them are Pre-Romanesque. But the ones making Pedret a must for any Romanesque art lover are the Romanesque paintings on the apses. Nowadays, some of the original paintings are kept in the Museum of Solsona and in the MNAC, but there are in situ reproductions of the pieces that had to be moved. There’s a lot to say about these paintings. Still, the most interesting things for enthusiasts are probably the thematic richness and variety, and the exceptional choice of certain images. These paintings are what makes Sant Quirze de Pedret one of the most important pieces of the Catalan Romanesque heritage.
Sant Jaume de Frontanyà
An imposing building of the 11th century –this one is originally Romanesque–, Sant Jaume de Frontanyà is one of the most representative works of Lombard architecture we have in Catalunya. Once part of a monastic precinct of which nothing remains, today the church stands solitary, sober, and monumental.
Stunning church of a single nave, and with a transept with three apses, it stands out because of the twelve-sided dome, unique in Catalunya. It’s one of the most perfect and well-proportioned Lombard buildings, with firm and balanced lines, and it probably has the most beautiful of early Romanesque chevets.
Close to La Pobla de Lillet, Sant Jaume de Frontanyà is an indispensable visit for Romanesque and Catalan culture lovers.
Sant Llorenç prop Bagà
It lays in Guardiola de Berguedà –close to Bagà, as its name reflects– and it’s one of the most important coenobitic complexes in the region. Its magnificent Romanesque church stands out in it. Its central nave is split in two floors by a platform and, beneath the platform, there’s a beautiful space which looks like a crypt. Some of the monastic outbuildings have also been restored.
The Romanesque church (11th – 12th century) was built over the remains of a Pre-Romanesque one (9th century). However, the monastic buildings that were left for us are the result of various construction phases, and of many remodelling and rebuilding events. The rehabilitation actions intended to restore the Romanesque appearance of the monastery, which implied the rebuilding of many disappeared parts. This was done applying the principle of harmonic diachrony, which gave the monastery a very interesting air. Harmonic diachrony is about keeping the original elements, styles, and materials in the remaining parts, while using modern materials and techniques for the remade parts, without confusion regarding their chronology. The result is an impeccable building, where a Romanesque appearance combines with modern construction elements.
The inside of the church is magnificent. Three very tall naves, the central of which is divided by the platform, which leaves an inferior space of captivating beauty. All of it rehabilitated for its current use since, besides of being visitable, the place hosts many cultural activities.
Sant Llorenç prop Bagà makes a very interesting visit. A surprising building, with a long history behind it, which has been a fascinating puzzle for archaeologists and restorers. You must see it!
Other important Romanesque heritage in Berguedà: monasteries
Among the Romanesque monasteries in Berguedà, I must highlight Sant Pere de la Portella, Santa Maria de Serrateix, and Santa Maria de Lillet. The latter shows, however, a mixture of styles, from Pre-Romanesque to Baroque. On the other hand, Santa Maria de Serrateix is an interesting complex, with a Romanesque church, a Neoclassical cloister, and several monastic outbuildings. Finally, Sant Pere de la Portella offers a pleasing walk. The church is quite well preserved, although the inside is decorated mainly in a Baroque fashion. The Romanesque monastic buildings are in ruins, and yet they are worth a visit. Invaded by vegetation, they hide some spots of pristine history, never reinterpreted by restorers. And there’s a particular charm –call it medieval if you want to– in walking around these ruins over which wild nature progresses.
Other important Romanesque heritage in Berguedà: churches
Regarding Romanesque churches, I must mention Santa Maria d’Avià, Sant Sadurní de Rotgers, and Sant Andreu de Sagàs. All three stand out because of their altar frontals. Today, the originals are kept in museums, but we can see in situ reproductions there. Specially, the Altar Frontal from Avià is one of the key pieces of Catalan Romanesque, and an important pictorial work in the Catalan culture.
Sant Pau de Casserres and Sant Vicenç del Rus are also noteworthy because of their pictorial art, mural paintings in this case. The ones in Casserres constitute one of the most interesting examples of Catalan medieval painting. They stand out because of their unique subject matter (they represent the Last Judgment according to an unusual text, the Elucidarium), and because they show the transition from Romanesque to Gothic painting. On the other hand, the paintings in Sant Vicenç are two magnificent sets of medieval mural art, a Romanesque one (today in the Museum of Solsona, we can find a reproduction in the church), and a Gothic one (preserved there).
To end with, let me point out that Sant Vicenç d’Obiols and Sant Martí de Puig-reig, though less important, deserve a visit as well.
So, can we see any of this?
Sure you can! To visit the three jewels in the crown –Sant Quirze de Pedret, Sant Jaume de Frontanyà, and Sant Llorenç prop Bagà–, Pedratour offers you a little tour of Romanesque heritage in Berguedà, rounded off with a local product tasting.
On the other hand, the inside of Santa Maria d’Avià, Santa Maria de Lillet, Sant Martí de Puig-reig I Sant Andreu de Sagàs can be visited by asking for the key in the location each church indicates. Regarding Sant Vicenç d’Obiols, Sant Sadurní de Rotgers, and Sant Vicenç de Rus, you can buy a ticket to visit them, and they offer guided visits as well.
Come discover the Romanesque heritage in Berguedà with Pedratour! A great way of doing cultural tourism with your family, in a stunning landscape, while visiting true jewels in the Catalan culture! Do you fancy?