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Church of Santa Catalina de Alejandría

Churches and chapels


Church of Santa Catalina de Alejandría - Exterior
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Church of Santa Catalina de Alejandría - Busto masculino
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Church of Santa Catalina de Alejandría - Monstruos
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Church of Santa Catalina de Alejandría - Combate
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Also known as the chapel of Santa Catalina de Azcona, it stands on the right-hand side of the road from Casetas to Ciriza, between Azcona and Arizaleta 11 kilometres north of Estella-Lizarra. Enigmatic and solitary in the middle of the countryside, it is one of the most beautiful churches in therural Romanesque style of Navarre, and a good example of Cistercian influence. It was built in the 12th century and restored in the 20th, and is simple and serene yet richly decorated with corbels and capitals. Winged monsters, harpies, animals, knights, damsels and a whole world of symbols invite you to interpret its particular language and are a good reason in themselves to visit the church.

Built in the 12th century as a chapel for the now-disappeared mediaeval hamlet of Ciriza, it had very close links with the Monastery of Iratxe, to such an extent that we can see repeated features in both monuments.

In its rectangular floor plan, semicircular east end and strong mediaeval masonry covering almost all the church we discover a building crowned with a belfry which has only one aperture -probably added to the original church- and whose outer walls are supported on rectangular buttresses. The church has a central window in the apse, T-shaped stone bays on the sides that give an optical illusion of corbels coming out of them. The façade, built around 1200, is pointed, sober, Cistercian and very simple, contrasting with the elaborate sculptures on the cornice and eaves.

It is worth dwelling a while to look for the winged dragon, the bull's head, the rhinoceros, the camel, the rival griffins -half lion, half eagle-, the flying harpies, the crouching women in an exhibitionist pose, the mother with her child in her arms, two armed knights who fight accompanied by three women, one of them imploring them with her hands together, or the controversial Sanso. This male bust with a stone has a rather ambiguous legend related to the sculptor or benefactor of the piece, although some say it is the very same Samson. What is indisputable is that, with his gesture, he invites us to look at him closely. Who knows, maybe if we listen to him we will find hidden details among so many Romanesque symbols.

The interior, although austere, conserves some notable treasures: a mediaeval baptismal font, a 16th-century choir resting on Tuscan columns and remains of 16th-century polychromy XVI on the walls of the apse. The reddish outlines enable us to identify a skull, a ship, a tower and a person at prayer with her arms crossed, perhaps Santa Catalina. In fact, these drawings are related to popular beliefs about the saint and the summer solstice: an egg in water adopts the form of a ship, a castle, the spiked wheel they tried to torture her with but broke when it touched her body, etc. There are many altar pieces in the Estella-Lizarra area in which the saint is represented.

Despite the fact that the Romanesque 16th-century Santa Catalina is the main image of the church, it is now kept in the parish church of Azcona.


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