The Church of Saint Miguel of Lillo

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Within the outskirts of Oviedo, on Naranco mountain (Narantium in Latin) presides a sacred church dedicated to Saint Miguel, although it was originally consecrated to Saint Mary. It is the church “Saint Miguel of Lillo”.

Saint Miguel of Lillo (Lillo meaning “lignum”, or wood in Latin), as it has long been known, is the Palatine Church which forms one of the buildings that King Ramiro the l ordered to be built during his brief reign in the 9th (IX) Century. In this serene place he envisioned a regal citadel. Only a third of the original building has been conserved until today as a large part fell into ruin at the close of the 11th (XI) Century.

“Meanwhile the aforementioned King founded a church in the memory of Saint Mary (the current church “Saint Miguel of Lillo”) on the foothills of Mount Naranco, a mere 2 miles from Oviedo. It was beautiful in its perfection and admirably lovely, and to refer to its features it is built purely of lime and stone and has a main vault supported by arches.

“If someone sought to see a similar such building in Spain they would not find one.” (Crónica ad Sebastianum, año 885).

The following account of Ramiro l of Asturias, constituting one of several chronicles which depict the era exemplifies the unique nature of the construction before us.

The vestibule and arrangement of the three naves is all that remains of the first floor. Above the vestibule sits the royal rostrum to which one can reach by ascending a narrow staircase. In the rostrum are two small rooms, one on either side which were possibly intended for the King and Queen to take rest in during long ceremonies. 

Above the rostrum there is also another small room which is inaccessible.  For the first time ever in Asturian architecture we see the use of columns in lieu of pillars. The rooves are half barreled vaults which are interlocked in sections with the axes alternating between transversal and longitudinal as well as crossing with those of the main hall. The half barrel vaults are reinforced with arches, a construction technique that will be later used in Roman buildings such as the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The richness of the décor has a clear Byzantine influence, with its many groupings of sculptural carving, among which one stands out as a figure of a lion tamer and other as a mountaineer, which could represent the celebration of the royal appointment as there is a clear depiction of a regal character seated between two courtesans. The paintings of human figures have survived the passage and tests of time and are considered to constitute the first known pictorial drawings found on the Iberian Peninsula. 

When looking at the building from outside you appreciate the architect´s clear intent to achieve a church of considerable height which would award it a slender and elegant beauty and power that would move its visitors of the time closer towards faith.

Even today there are hundreds of thousands of visitors and pilgrims who visit Saint Miguel of Lillo. We can still sense the spirit of those anonymous artists who left behind their legacy in this beautiful building which seeks to connect us with the divine and eternal kingdom of God. Let us be inspired by this harmonious and beautiful spirit in the quiet and peaceful surroundings, perfect for faithful contemplation.

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