Built in the 12th and 17th century respectively and located on the top of a hill in the village of Argomilla, the Church of San Andrés and the Palace of Ceballos El Caballero are two examples of Spain’s forgotten architectural masterpieces.
The rain has stopped today in the autonomous community of Cantabria, one of the most rainy regions of Spain. In Argomilla, one of the nine villages of the Valley of Cayón, the sky is clear, allowing to perfectly see the top of the locality’s small hill. After a 10 minute walk starting from the houses on the entrance of the village, the south facing side of the Church of San Andrés is reached.
Erected in the 12th century, it is a perfect example of the Romanesque period in Spain. The structure of the original single nave and semi-circular apse can be seen from the outside. The bell tower, although it does not clash with the rest of the building, it was added during the 17th century. Declared Site of Cultural Interest by the Spanish Historical Heritage in January 1982, exactly 40 years ago, the church still stands and is visited every Sunday by its Roman Catholic parishioners. However, a number of cracks have appeared all around the building.
The Church of San Andrés was erected in the 12th century during the Romanesque Period. ALBERTO LEJARRAGA MOLINA
Regarding this, Gema García, organist of the church, explains they have “asked for funds for the reparations for many years but no money has been awarded yet”. “All the public money was spent in the works of the nearby Nuestra Señora de la Asunción Church in Santa María de Cayón,” she adds.
Before entering the church, García explains that its main door is still the original. Crowned with a semi-circular arch with four archivolts decorated with carved balls, it is an example of the Romanesque style. Historian Fausto Fernández points out how the capitals of the door are adorned with sculpted lions and harpies, a creature with the body of a bird and the head of a women that represent vices and lower passions.
The entrance door is original from the 12th century and its arches are adorned with carved figures of animals. ALBERTO LEJARRAGA MOLINA
Enrique Campuzano, Doctor in History of Art and director of Santillana’s Diocesan Museum, explains that, as revealed in a book written by Carmen González Echegaray, “the portico above the door is not original, but was probably built not many years after the construction of the church.” It consists of two robust perpendicular arches. The bell tower was also erected later on, in this case, presumably during the 16th or 17th century.
Inside the building, it can be seen the original single nave structure leading to the apse, which is decorated with several Romanesque figures. For example, Campuzano says that the frieze located on its wall has “carved lions and doves, symbols of Christ and the Christian soul respectively.” García explains that almost all the valuable items from the church are kept at the Diocesan museum of Santillana del Mar. However, the most important piece, a statue of San Andrés, is located on the right side of the nave.
An outstanding triumphal arch separates the central nave from the apse. Frieze with animals and statue of San Andrés. ALBERTO LEJARRAGA MOLINA
Once outside, Fernández is astonished by the corbels of the building, that consist of some human and mostly animal figures adorned with sculpted rosettes and chequered stone. “It is remarkable to see such a great number of them around the building. Other Romanesque churches in the area do not have that many. This probably means the region of Argomilla was wealthy during the time San Andrés was built.” However, he points out that while all corbels are chiselled in the north facing side of the building, the south one is much less decorated. “It is likely that they run out of money during the last period of the construction,” Fernández explains.
Corbels of animals are common in the Romanesque Period. They represent the line between God and sin. ALBERTO LEJARRAGA MOLINA
Near the church building, another historical gem is found, a collection of 17 medieval sarcophagus dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. They probably contain the bodies of former abbots, since the church was an abbey until the 17th century. García explains “they were previously spread around the church, yet in 1965, they were placed under the building that served as the village local school until the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939.”
A collection of 17 medieval sarcophagus is located inside the old school building, next to the church. ALBERTO LEJARRAGA MOLINA
On the outside wall of the apse, it is carved the coat of arms of the Ceballos lineage. It was probably added during the 18th century, since the church belonged to the family at the time. In the 17th century, the Ceballos family, concretely Francisco Antonio de Ceballos and his wife Marina Jacinta de Padura, built the Palace of Ceballos El Caballero, situated in front of the church.
The Palace of Ceballos El Caballero was built on the 17th century and was previously a 14th century tower. ALBERTO LEJARRAGA MOLINA
Campuzano explains “the building was previously a 14th century tower that belonged to Francisco’s ancestor Diego Gutiérrez de Ceballos”. On its front wall, above four semi-circular arches of great architectural value, the coats of arms of Ceballos and Padura families can be seen. On the left side of the building, there is a window near the ground that leads to a space that was probably used as a dungeon. Fernández says the palace is a relevant example of the late Baroque period in Spain. “The building belongs to an architectural style that is dying.”
The Palace was used as a stable and truck parking until 2018. It is currently at risk of collapse. ALBERTO LEJARRAGA MOLINA
The Palace has been neglected for centuries and until 2018, when it was included in the red list of Historical Patrimony, it was used as a stable and truck parking. The building is very damaged and at risk of collapse. The front balcony and some of the battlements have fallen.
While the Palace of Ceballos, one of Cantabria’s architectural treasures, is in real danger of collapsing completely, next to it, a large number of cracks are appearing on the walls of the Church of San Andrés. No public funding is available for their renovation. It is true than in Spain, the country with the largest rate of unemployment in the European Union, the investment in the reconstruction of historical buildings should probably not be a priority. However, if the country continues to ignore their architectural masterpieces, a part of their cultural identity will be lost.
All the captions of this video were taken by the author ALBERTO LEJARRAGA MOLINA