This jewel of the Asturian pre-Romanesque, perhaps the most unknown, it can be visited if we plan it with a little time and call the caretaker to make an appointment. Its central nave barely exceeds 10 meters in length by 6 meters wide. It is a "mini-church", we could say, but its extreme simplicity and the amount of admirable details in such a small space make it something precious and exceptional. An eclectic temple: courtly and sacred, one of the most singular of its time. Mysterious too, like a missing link that it does not admit definitive explanations about its origin.
Santa Cristina was declared a National Monument in 1885 and World Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1985, along with other pre-Romanesque monuments in Asturias; monuments that in all cases raise the question of who their architect was and how he and his team were able to master a type of complex construction and perfect execution, which has no previous precedent on the continent.
The history of Santa Cristina de Lena
Its undoubted historical-artistic appeal seems to date back to time immemorial, feeding legends, a lot of historiographical theories and being the focus of continuous debate among a multitude of specialists.
It is found crowning a gentle hill that, according to legend, hides a cave in which lives a hen (the reincarnation of a maiden murdered by her father) that lays golden eggs and that once every hundred years is seen by the surroundings of Santa Cristina. Other popular accounts tell of tombs with giant bones that were found nearby.
The really documented history seems to question the Christian foundation of the place. The present church could be the end point of a series of constructions raised successively in this enclave. It is presumed that some medallions located between the arches were filed with the intention of hiding profane iconography. The same occurs with other motifs inside the church that move away from a sacred conception.
The site de Santa Cristina, an important vantage point over the region of Lén and the roads that connected Asturias and the plateau, is a place related to those preferred for erecting burial mounds, dolmens or castros. According to experts, it could also be a palatine hall designed for the recreation of the Asturian court, perhaps the closest antecedent to the Christianization process of the site. About Santa Cristina all kinds of theories and conjectures have been poured out which, although more or less reasoned, have not been documented and for this reason have never been categorical.
its true valued as a monument dates back to the end of the 1892th century when, among others, Jovellanos visited Santa Cristina and drew up a series of plans and drawings of the monument. In XNUMX the first documented work that exists took place: the church, after several centuries of abandonment, was restored with great judgment and skill by Juan Bautista Lázaro, responsible for works in the Mosque of Córdoba and author of the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid. This clearly shows the importance that was attached to this monument in the XNUMXth century. Already in the XNUMXth century, several archaeological excavations took place, as well as other maintenance and restoration works that have allowed us to admire it under a magnificent state of conservation.
Santa Cristina, pre-Romanesque monument
Small, solitary and majestic on a dreamy hill, Santa Cristina de Lena is above all a slender figure At the same time it is strong, made with the typical warm stone of pre-Romanesque art. It has a plant in the shape of greek cross, typical of Visigothic churches, a characteristic that makes it even more unique. Although the church belongs to the reign of Ramiro I (842-850), some authors maintain that it was actually built in the 848th century and that it was later rebuilt, perhaps under the direction of the same architect of Santa María del Naranco or another who knew the construction techniques. Its always problematic dating, as has been said, leads some to argue that its reconstruction could be prior to the construction of Santa María (consecrated in the year XNUMX).
Fascinated by its robust stones and by the perfect symmetry created by so many buttresses and projections, we start to circle around it to find out if it is possible that it has, as they say, 365 corners, as many as there are days in the year. Under a semicircular arch is the only access door, something very unique again, since Asturian churches from this period usually have three. This indicates that all the parishioners without distinction entered through the same place, and taking into account that the faithful were separated by sex in the High Middle Ages, there are those who maintain that Santa Cristina was at the service of a female religious community.
Once inside we verify that, as on the outside, it is perfectly preserved. The central nave is divided into three zones. The chancel, raised one meter above the ground, is separated from the rest of the church by a iconostasis that we will not be able to see in situ in any other Romanesque temple in the world. It is formed by three semicircular arches on columns and capitals, and it is accessed by two side stairs. Under the central arch we can admire a gate with carvings of crosses and rosettes, reused from the Visigothic period, which in its day helped the liturgical acts, separating the presbytery from the area for parishioners.
It is also of great interest the rostrum Existing on the portico which is climbed by a staircase on the inner side of the church. A structure that is repeated in several Asturian churches and that in Santa Cristina de Lena has the particularity of being extended, supported by a large semicircular arch and in order to gain space, over the first section of the nave; as an exclusive "balcony" over the ecclesial space.
the reliefs that can be seen in Santa Cristina are carvings with animal and warlike motifs (warriors on horseback) perhaps because in their surroundings there were always skirmishes to conquer the territory. Two capitals that seem to represent two owls draw attention. Initially, historians described them as "spired capitals, made with an incised pattern." But if they are actually owls, as other studies point out, we would be dealing with animals related to the mortuary totemic vision of pagan and pre-Roman peoples.
The entire church is vaulted and the transit between the different rooms is through semicircular arches. The roof of the central nave is very similar to that of Santa María del Naranco; a barrel vault on perpiaño arches supported by attached columns and truncated pyramidal capitals. The space is narrow but extraordinarily beautiful, the entry of natural light is scarce, but at certain hours of the day a set of light beams can be seen with a very spiritual effect.
How to get to Santa Cristina de Lena
It is in the Lena's Council, 35 km south of Oviedo and only 3,5 from Pola de Lena continuing on the A-66 motorway (exit Pola de Lena). GPS coordinates: 43º 7' 38,33 N 5º 48' 51,65 O. The church is located on a hill in the parish of Felgueras near Vega del Rey. Nearby we find the Didactic Classroom of Asturian Pre-Romanesque, Located in the old La Cobertoria station, in front of the halt.
There are three hits to church. One with quite a slope and cobblestone that begins when passing under the bridge of the halt. The other two depart from the station and pass under the bridge as well. The first of them starts shortly after and is less steep than the previous one, but to take the other one you have to continue along the same track a little further until you come across a signposted detour that connects with the final stretch to the church. To park the car there are two options: leave it at the same station and go up one of the indicated paths, or park it in the "official" car park, a little above the station. This car park connects directly with the last of the indicated paths and is accessible for all types of people, wheelchairs and baby carriages.
It is not a bad idea to go to this enclave on the last Sunday of July, when the pilgrimage is held in honor of Santa Cristina de Lena. After mass, the popular "Puya'l ramu" is celebrated, an auction of bread in honor of the saint.
The most important thing to see to be able to see the temple inside is arrange the visit calling the warden before going.
Guardian 609 94 21 53 / 985 49 05 25
Telephone of the Asturian Pre-Romanesque Didactic Classroom, located in front of the halt of the old Cobertoria railway station, in the town of Lena: 985 49 76 08
Symbolic fee: €2 adults; €1 child; €1,50 groups of more than 20 people
Hours: Monday closed. Closed month of November.
Tuesday to Sunday: 11 a.m. to 13:00 p.m. / 16:30 p.m. to 18:30 p.m.
The temple opens in the afternoon except for the month of November.