Romanesque nightmares: The Fuentidueña Chapel and a bunch of frescoes from San Baudelio de Berlanga

Covetotop has never been to “The Cloisters” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) 😦

But Covetotop has an Internet connection 🙂

The other day, Covetotop visited the amazing MET-The Cloisters website.

And there he found the picture of a beautiful apse, and the following information, concerning what the MET calls “002 The Fuentidueña Chapel” (Museum map here):

“Apse, 1175–1200

Spanish; from the Church of San Martin, Fuentidueña, Segovia


Exchange Loan from the Government of Spain, 1958

The church from which this apse comes was probably part of a castle complex, built by Christians engaged in the reconquista … To accommodate the reconstructed apse, which comprises 3,300 stone blocks, the former Special Exhibition Room was partially demolished. The new gallery, which opened to the public in 1961, was designed to simulate a single-aisle nave with no projecting transepts, a plan characteristic of twelfth-century Segovian architecture.”

Intrigued, willing to know more about the above mentioned “Exchange Loan from the Government of Spain, 1958”, Covetotop took a daring decision: to visit the real “twelfth-century Segovian architecture”.

Hence he went to Fuentidueña (province of Segovia, Spain), where he certainly found an old castle complex …

Big door middle ages

The adventurous Covetotop crossed those phantasmagoric walls …

Dark Ages Wall

And there he found the solitary remains of a church …

Fuentidueña Chapel

– Oh my God! -our intelligent hero exclaimed- That must be the famous “Church of San Martin, 1175–1200, limestone, exchange Loan from the Government of Spain, 1958!”

Fuentidueña ex-apse

Yes, it was the Church of San Martín.

The depressing view compelled the sensitive Covetotop to dash in search of something beautiful to refresh his soul … and he found it just a few steps away, in the very same medieval village of Fuentidueña:

San Miguel de Fuentidueña 1

That’s the Church of San Miguel (12th-13th centuries).

San Miguel de Fuentidueña 2

– Thanks God there has been no exchange loan here -mused Covetotop.

– Yeah!

– Who said yeah?


Medieval door

Covetotop searched the surroundings for the source of the creepy voice he had heard…

Romanesque gallery

Apparently nobody was there, but suddenly … he found the source, or sources, to better say it, on the church façade:

Medieval knights

Romanesque monster

bull and lady

old lady talking

The surprised Covetotop wanted to know more about San Baudelio and the ludicrous “Exchange Loan from the Government of Spain, 1958”, but apparently it was lunch time at the Church of San Miguel façade …

hungry monster

So, Covetotop thought he’d rather run away as fast as possible …

Romanesque monsters

– Their cousins from Pecharromán? Mmmm … I guess those kind capitals were talking about the Romanesque Church of San Andrés, in the little village of Pecharromán (province of Segovia). It is just a ten minutes ride from Fuentidueña; so, let’s go to Pecharromán and let’s ask those Romanesque cousins about the mysterious business between Spain and USA concerning the apse from San Martín and the frescoes from San Baudelio. What a mess! –thought the intrepid, intelligent and sensitive Covetotop.

On his way to Pecharromán, Covetotop decided to make a brief stop by the wonderful Hermitage of San Vicente, another Romanesque jewel of the surroundings, just to take an atmospheric pic for this post …

San Andrés Hermitage

Covetotop arrived in Pecharromán in a few minutes, where he visited the Church of San Andrés:

Pecharromán Church

– Do any of you know anything about the mysterious business between Spain and USA concerning the apse from San Martín de Fuentidueña and the frescoes from San Baudelio de Berlanga? -Covetotop asked a group of little demons …

Angry demons of Pecharromán

Romanesque demons

He was about to go away, when some friendly voices stopped him …

Conversation Pecharromán   Conversation Pecharromán

Monsters talking to me

Covetotop asked the dragon-man for help and yes, he knew it all ..

The Dragon-man

– Thank you Mr. Dragon-man. Thank you monsters. Now I know what happened. And now I am willing to visit that ancient and solitary pre-Romanesque hermitage of San Baudelio. It’s a long ride to the province of Soria, but I have a motorcycle and I guess I’m there in two hours … -said Covetotop

Two monsters

Covetotop explained to those nice medieval folks what a motorcycle is and he said good-bye.

Good-bye monsters

Two hours later, Covetotop found the Hermitage of San Baudelio de Berlanga in the middle of the beautiful Sorian countryside …

preromanesque hermitage

-What a strange building; it is really old, but it looks like an ultra-modern one. It is almost a cube. Let’s go in it! –thought the sagacious Covetotop.

Covetotop entered the cubical hermitage and … he was amazed: almost every exposed surface (the ceilings, floors, walls, ribs, squinches, central column and oratory) had remains of paintings. No doubt, the hermitage was completely ornamented with frescoes … long time ago.

The architectural structure was extremely original too.

– What a strange mix of sadness and awe I’m experiencing here –thought the audacious, sensitive, intelligent etc. Covetotop.

He also took some pics for his little bunch of loyal readers. Here they are:

San Baudelio frescos

San Baudelio paintings

San Baudelio frescoes

Medieval hermitage

remains San Baudelio

San Baudelio de Berlanga

Apart from feeling sadness and awe, Covetotop was very hungry. Hence he went to Berlanga de Duero, a village located not far away from the hermitage, in search of a restaurant.

On his way to the restaurant, he was impressed by the big and wonderful Gothic-Renaissance church known as “Colegiata de Santa María del Mercado” (1526-1530):

Berlanga church

On the Colegiata wall there was an inscription concerning one of the illustrious sons of the Village of Berlanga de Duero: Fray Tomás de Berlanga (1487–1551). He was a naturalist, diplomat, adventurer and the fourth bishop of Panama. According to Wikipedia, he sailed to Peru, his ship stalled when the winds died and strong currents carried him out to the Galápagos Islands, which he thus discovered on March 10, 1535. He sent an account of the adventure and discovery to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain.

Fray Tomás de Berlanga

Covetotop is a great discoverer too. He discovered a very good restaurant in Berlanga de Duero, named “Casa Vallecas”, which he strongly recommends to his friends.

It is extremely improbable that any of the Covetotop’s loyal virtual friends (which happen to live in very distant galaxies like USA or Australia, or in closer ones like Italy, UK or France …) ever get lost in such a remote and little known wonder as the province of Soria, but just in case you visit the old village of Berlanga de Duero, and you want to enjoy an outstanding Castilian lunch, follow these indications:

Reference point: Castle of Berlanga …

Berlanga castle

This is the restaurant’s door …

Casa Vallecas Berlanga de Duero

This is what Covetotop ate …

Casa Vallecas 1

Casa Vallecas 2

Casa Vallecas 3

– Yeah! 🙂


About Covetotop

A Mediterranean blogger
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34 Responses to Romanesque nightmares: The Fuentidueña Chapel and a bunch of frescoes from San Baudelio de Berlanga

  1. augusta says:

    My favorite WP blog strikes again.

  2. Christina says:

    Dear sensitive, intelligent, etc. Covetotop,
    I suppose I assumed that the frescoes that left Spain were the only surviving parts of damaged or ruined churches – like the Church of San Martín you found. It’s hard to see that San Baudelio de Berlanga is not only intact but still has some lovely frescoes. It’s as if someone decided to only take the “nice frescoes” and so the smaller images or decorative painting remains. That’s very sad to see and I think reflects attitudes many years ago. Was there any information at San Baudelio de Berlanga noting where the removed images had been? I know several of these are secular in nature (like hunting scenes or exotic animals) and so it would have been interesting to see where in the context of the home/monastery they were placed.

    Thanks as always for the tour! (You also seem to have a lot of luck getting information from stone capitals!) 🙂

    • Covetotop says:

      The sensitive, intelligent, etc. Covetotop thanks Lady Christina for her kind words and for her sensitive, intelligent, etc. questions, which he proceeds to answer as follows:
      The hermitage was property of some neighbors of a village nearby. They were very poor by that 1922 year, so they sold all the frescoes to an antique dealer named Leon Levi, who worked on behalf of an American art merchant named Gabriel Dereppe. The price was ridiculous: 65.000 pesetas (600 USD, more or less). There were protests and litigation during the following years, because the hermitage was protected (in theory) by the State, but the Supreme Court finally allowed that, errr, business.
      The frescoes were removed from the hermitage in 1925 using the “Strappo Technique”, and then transferred to canvas. Today they are in: Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Cincinnati Art Museum and Metropolitan Art Museum (“The Cloisters”), in New York.
      In the Prado Museum (Madrid, Spain), there are six frescoes from San Baudelio, returned to Spain in exchange for the Fuentidueña apse: “Elephant”, “Hare Hunting”, “Deer Hunting”, “Soldier” or “Beater”, “Curtain” and, finally, “Bear”.
      If you ever visit the hermitage, you could see the remains of those frescoes, in their original place. Here below you’ll find two interesting links about San Baudelio and its frescoes:
      This is a short film about the San Baudelio frescoes and how they looked when they were “fresh paint” 1000 years ago:

      This is a very informative .pdf about the conservation works carried out in San Baudelio; it’s in Spanish, but it has some interesting pics and technical details:
      This is an excellent treaty about San Baudelio (in Spanish):
      I’m very glad you liked the tour (btw: getting information from stone capitals is very easy, you only have to talk to them with respect and love) 🙂

      • Christina says:

        Thanks for the great reply. That video is fantastic!! I love the end when the room is recreated in a wave of color. 🙂
        Thanks again for the incredible lesson. I also love following along on your travels and exploration. (I’ll try to be more patient with the capitals but I think you have an advantage with them since you already look like a stone capital yourself!:))

  3. Sarah says:

    What adventures you have, Covetotop! I’m jealous. 🙂

  4. Tyran Grillo says:

    Talking gargoyles!

  5. Trish says:

    You’re such a wild guy! I particularly loved reading all the dialogue. I’m feeling happy and sad; happy that you’re showing us what’s left of Romanesque Spanish churches and sad that only skerricks of the frescoes remain in place in the Hermitage of San Baudelio.

    • Covetotop says:

      Thank you Trish! Yes, it is a pity to see the current state of some old monuments, specially taking into account that they withstood very well wars, storms and a lot of centuries, but they couldn’t survive the ruthless 20th century and the naked greed of some of his sons. Nevertheless, this horror has a good side: arriving to this lost hermitage is pretty difficult, it is far away from it all and visits are strongly restricted. Those priceless frescoes are today spread in different museums around the world and thousands of people can enjoy them daily. I guess their anonymous authors (the frescoes were painted 1000 years ago) must be very happy wherever they are today …

      • Trish says:

        I looked up information about the Strappo Technique. On the first web site I came across, I found a touching and instructive error. Since you’re interested in the English language, Covetotop, I’ll explain: angle = corner, right angle, triangle etc; angel = winged heavenly being. Here are a couple of the instructions from the site about transferring frescoes:

        * Once the fresco is dry, (use both hands and even pressure) slowly pull the gauze material back. Do not pull hard or at an extreme angel.
        Be sure to keep the blade at a low angel.

        It makes me weep.

      • Covetotop says:

        Being rude to an extreme angel is never advisable! 😀

  6. This loyal reader had a blast – excellent, amusing post!

  7. Linda Duffin says:

    Another extraordinary post – and stunning frescoes. I had no idea the works in The Cloisters had been “exchanged” on that basis. As a Brit whose national museum adamantly refuses to return the Elgin Marbles etc I can hardly criticise – but it’s deeply sad that the frescoes aren’t in their home environment.
    I enjoyed the latest exchange with the gargoyles, by the way, you obviously have a way with them.

    • Covetotop says:

      Thank you for your comment, Linda. Yes, I must acknowledge that I have a good hand at talking to gargoyles and to all kinds of stones, including the Aiguablava rocks … 🙂

  8. abrooke65 says:

    Que interesante! What a great post. There is a ton of knowledge here conveyed in a really funny format. You really followed the trail to the end. I live in NYC and have been to the cloisters many times. I always just assumed that the structures where these things came from were no longer standing. I now need to come back to Spain and follow your same trail! Gracias por la informacion y las fotos muy bonitas!

    • Covetotop says:

      Muchas gracias! I am sure The Cloisters is a great museum; they have an outstanding collection of medieval monuments. But that special feeling you experience in the middle of the countryside, standing alone just in front of one of those little Romanesque churches … that is very difficult to enclose in any museum. Hence you must volver a España y experimentar that special feeling 😉

  9. Pero que lindos los comentarios en los speech bubbles! Me reí tanto!

  10. Hi Covetotop! I think this blog is quickly becoming one of my favorites! I really loved the conversations you had with the friendly gargoyles, but also because I had never once thought about what happened to the Church of San Martin. Like abrooke65, I too assumed that the chapel sitting in The Cloisters was the only piece of the church left. And I think that seeing the church standing as one piece, in its original setting, is probably the most powerful, moving way to see it.

    But let me say this: as someone who literally grew up on the other side of the world and fell in love from afar with the Old World, who wrote his collegiate thesis on Romanesque sculpture, being able to visit The Cloisters (three times, even though I had to travel all the way from Boston by bus!!) fed my desire to learn more and eventually one day see these beautiful churches in person (which I finally will in the next few months!!!) It is a little sad to know that places like San Martin are not quite the same anymore, but also think how many people. young and old, have come to The Cloisters or other museums like it and became inspired to eventually see the real thing. The church of San Martin is a martyr for furthering the study of the Middle Ages and reminding us how different, yet similar we are to people who lived 1,000 years ago 🙂 And I promise you this: We have taken only the best care of your beautiful chapel, and hopefully always will!

    • Covetotop says:

      Thank you for your nice comment, Nathan. I’m sure The Cloisters will preserve all those jewels better than any other institution. And such an important museum will allow lots of people to experience an incredible -and easy to follow- travel in time, to the Middle Ages. Anyway, the selling and shipping of old European monuments, overseas, is something from the past, thanks to the current legislation in the European Community … Anyway, if I ever visit New York, The Cloisters will be in my “not-to-be-missed” list.

      • You would really love the Cloisters! Also, because it’s affiliated with the Met you can pay as much or as little as you want (very helpful when you’re on a tight budget). Salud!

  11. harri8here says:

    mmm so happy you said phantasmagoric … a favourite word.

    How well you juggle knowledge, humour, sensitivity … and food.

    I’m writing about gargoyles … really loved your pictures and the dialogue 😉

  12. Wonderful post, Covetotop. I am envious of your conversations with the corbels. I hear them when my back is turned but they ignore me when I try to converse.

    • Covetotop says:

      I tend to think that they are very shy guys. Building a corbel’s confidence takes time and a lot of patience. Nevertheless, if you ever find yourself talking to corbels like me, seek urgently for psychiatrist help 🙂

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