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Church of Santa María de Arce

Churches and chapels


Church of Santa María de Arce - Church of Santa María de Arce
icono pie de fotoChurch of Santa María de Arce


Church of Santa María de Arce
The wind that blows down from the Sierra de Labia caresses the walls of the church of Santa María de Arce. It makes the harp of one of the figures on the eaves play, enters the mouth of another and plays with the pages of a book. It gradually wears away the carvings of the fine example of 12th-century rural Romanesque architecture. Located in a valley where the Pyrenees can be seen in the distance, it invites you to enjoy the tranquillity of the surroundings.

The beautiful Romanesque church of Santa María is located in the valley of Arce, the foothills of the Pyrenees in north-eastern Navarre. It is surrounded by a landscape dug out by the river Urrobi and watched over the Sierra de Labia. To get there, take the NA-172 towards Orreaga/Roncesvalles from Aoiz. Just before Zandueta, cross a small bridge over the river Urrobi and you will find the church of Santa María de Arce in the middle of a field; it is a superb end-of-12th-century church in the rural Romanesque style.

The outside consists of harmoniously-proportioned ashlars, with the side walls strengthened by buttresses. It is decorated with a line of dogs or corbels that are adorned with figures of men carrying out different activities: one is strumming a harp, another carries a barrel, a third opens his mouth… The windows, three of which open off the apse, form a pointed arch. The columns have a cylindrical shaft with a circular base and decorated capital, and also smooth with plant or Corinthian motifs adorned in a rustic manner.

The façade is on the side of the Epistle and is protected by a small roof with blocks supported on decorated small overhanging eaves with animal heads, although some have deteriorated quite badly. It has a pointed arch with three archivolts and an exterior arch with plant motif scrolls. The central archivolt is smooth but the one on the interior is decorated with balls. The one on the outside also has small heads and pine cones. The supports of these arches consist of columns with decorated capitals, the two on the outside with plant motifs and the two inner ones with figures. Despite the fact that the state of repair of these capitals is not excellent, it seems reasonable to say that they correspond to the scene of the Ascension of Christ.

Stylistically, the church of Santa María de Arce ties in with a number of Romanesque churches in rural Navarre such as those at Echano, Artaiz or Gazólaz. All of them clearly reflect the Romanesque style, which was very popular among the people.

The church has a rectangular layout with three unequal sections, and a semi-circular header with a furnace dome. The roof consists of a barrel vault between through bounder arches. These are supported on bridge piers with smooth fascia that extend right around the perimeter of the church.

The vestry is attached to the header on the side of the Epistle and has an almost square layout. It is covered by a pointed barrel vault; entry is through a dintelled door with a reinforcing arch.

The church has hardly any objects inside it now, with the exception of the carving of the Virgin Mary with Child from nearby Guindano, which presides over the apse. It belongs to the Gothic style of the 13th century but still has a certain Romanesque rigidity about it. A large stone baptismal font with a smooth shaft and bowl is also conserved.

Orreaga/Roncesvalles from


How to get there and move around

Desde la Ronda de Pamplona (este) PA-30 coger la carretera NA-150 dirección Aoiz. Poco antes de llegar a esta localidad coger la carretera NA-1720 dirección Auritz-Burguete y pasado Nagore girar a la derecha por la NA-2040 dirección Oroz-Betelu y Garralda. Tras pasar el puente sobre el río Urrobi existe un desvío señalizado hacia la derecha (Santa María) para llegar al despoblado donde se encuentra la ermita.

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